My alarm went off at 6:30 in the morning, but I hit the snooze button. It went off again at 6:40, 6:50 and 7:00. I was about to hit snooze again when I remembered that I had Arabic class at 7 and I’d better get online. I jumped out of bed while singing “Modeh ani lefanecha…”, turned on the computer, found some clothes in the laundry basket of clean clothes that I hadn’t bothered to fold or hang up in my closet, and got dressed as the computer booted. I sat down at the desk while pulling my binder over my head. I clicked the browser open, waited for the calendar to load, and then clicked on the Zoom link for class. I pulled the binder down below my waist and then buttoned my pants and buckled my belt. The Zoom window loaded. All my classmates and the teacher were arrayed in little boxes in front of me, but the box where I should have been was just a black rectangle because the cover was still over my camera. I pulled my shirt over my head and then smoothed my hair out. I reached over to the spot on my bookshelf where I have a stash of hats in a box and grabbed a black knit beanie and pulled it on my head. It was kind of cold, so I pulled it down over my ears before opening the cover on my camera.
“Sabah alkhayr, Uri!” The teacher greeted me as my picture popped up in front of her.
“Sabah annuur!” I responded before apologizing for being late.
“What happened to your face?” she asked, “Are you OK?”
I lifted my hand up to my left cheek, remembering what had happened, “Yeah, I’m fine, but it’s kinda weird. I bumped into something last night, but I don’t know how it left such a big umm…” I pointed at my face, not knowing the word for bruise.
“Kadima,” She offered. I nodded and repeated “kadima”, then she said, “Oh, dear! Be careful!” and then we went on with class.
By the time we had a break in class I really had to go pee. I ran to the bathroom, and Doug followed close behind. When I stepped out of the bathroom, he was by the back door asking to go outside. I let him out in the fenced backyard and then went into the cupboard to grab a couple of granola bars. I didn’t have time to make a proper pot of coffee, so I just boiled some water and poured it over coarsely ground coffee beans in a tall glass. I opened the back door to call Doug back inside and then headed back to my room for the rest of class.
At 9 when class was over, I took a shower. After my shower I checked my face in the mirror again. It looked worse today than it did last night. I went over to my herbal cabinet and found an arnica cream I made last summer. I trust the stuff I make myself better than anything you can buy in the store because I know what I put in it and also because I make it with intent. It’s one of the simplest types of practical magic. By tomorrow, the bruise would be gone.
At 10 I had Mishnah class where we were working our way through Pirkei Avot, but I had enough time between my shower and then to wrap tefillin and say shacharit. I’ve been trying to do this every day since my father passed away. I miss more days than I’d like, but I’m getting better and missing fewer days all the time as it becomes a habit. I don’t have a local minyan to say Kaddish every day for him, but I can do this and I can dedicate my learning to his memory each day. Anyway, the point was never supposed to be about one specific Aramaic prayer in honor of the dead. It’s about doing good deeds and showing that the person influenced the world for good and has left a legacy of mitzvot. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, but he definitely deserved to be honored as best as I could.
After Mishnah class I wasted time on social media, played some video games, tried and failed to read a book, tried and failed to get myself to apply to any of the various job ads I had in open tabs in my browser, folded some underwear but didn’t finish the rest of the clean laundry, and generally continued to be a giant lump of failure in my bedroom. Around 5 I wandered out of my little in-law unit and into my son’s house to see how the family was doing.
Coming in through the back door to the kitchen, the first thing I saw was the baby in her high chair who smiled at me and squealed, “Baba!” as she held her arms out. I walked over, unhooked the straps and scooped her into my arms and then turned to see her mom standing by the stove.
“Hey! How’s it going?” I asked.
“It’s been a rough day, but dinner is almost ready.” She responded. “I’m glad you are here. Sarah has been yelling at me for the last hour.”
“I’ll keep her busy,” I said as I climbed over the baby gate and into the living room with the baby. I sat in the big comfy chair with Sarah and we had a conversation of the sort one has with a pre-verbal child who has a few almost sort of, kind of words that are maybe real language or maybe just random noises. She was very engaged for a few minutes and then she climbed off my lap to get a book. She brought the book over to me and attempted to climb back onto my lap. I pulled her up and read the book to her. She pointed at things on some of the pages and said some things that I’m sure she understood even if I didn’t. When I finished, she turned back to the first page and looked at me expectantly. “Really? Again?”
“Dinner’s ready!” my daughter in law called from the kitchen.
A stampede of footsteps came from every part of the house as 5 older children and my son all came into the kitchen, stood in line at the bathroom by the backdoor to wash their hands, and then found their places at the table. The food was good, and there was an assortment of different conversation topics while we ate and then waited for the last stragglers to finish their dinner. The three year old kept saying, “Yum yum!” but not eating her food, so she was presented with an alternate dinner of peanut butter on toast and the fruit and vegetable smoothie we call “green juice”, which she accepted and finally consumed. The twelve year old had a book report he was working on, so my son asked him a bunch of questions about the book and talked about how to take what they were talking about and turn it into a coherent essay. Several nonsensical knock knock jokes were told with punchlines that were just variations on “chicken butt!” and one very earnest question was asked about “Ant-o-mology” which led to my daughter in law declaring insects a verboten topic for the dinner table.
When dinner was over, all the kids were excused from the table and reminded to put their plates in the sink. Time until showers was declared, so that everyone knew how long they could play before getting ready for bed. I waited until everyone had cleared out of the kitchen and opened the back door to let Doug in. I told him to sit and then put a few of the plates that had dog-safe leftovers on the ground for him. I gave the “break” command, and he went to work cleaning those plates while I rinsed the other plates in the sink and put them in the dishwasher. When Doug was done with his snack, I found each of the dog-licked-clean plates where he had pushed them and put them into the dishwasher as well.
I popped my head into the living room where my son and daughter in law were both sitting with a couple of the kids reading books to say, “Thank you for dinner! Have a good night!”
“Thanks for doing the dishes! See you tomorrow!”
And then I headed out the back door toward my in-law unit in the opposite corner of the property facing the alleyway. I went straight to the bathroom to take my twice daily inhaler and brush my teeth. I think I forgot to take it in the morning. I looked at the number on the back of the inhaler. It had an odd number of puffs left, but that didn’t mean much. I almost always remember at night, but often forget to take the morning dose. I’m not very good at mornings.
I grabbed Doug’s harness and leash so we could go out for a proper walk. That’s another thing I hadn’t been good at for a while. It was easy to let Doug just run in the yard, but he much preferred when we took a walk so that he could check all the smells in the neighborhood. We wandered around the neighborhood for a while and then returned home after about an hour. By the time we got home it was about 7:30.
I wanted to get back to the 19 Crows world, but I was getting a bit tired. I decided to get ready for bed early and then meditate before going to sleep. A few minutes later I had my pillows all set up against the wall as a backrest, and I climbed into bed naked. I sat up with my back against the pillows and my legs bent in front of me, bottoms of my feet touching. I hate sitting cross legged because my feet fall asleep, but this position is comfortable for long periods as long as my knees aren’t bothering me. I pulled the covers up to my shoulders and tucked them back around me so that there was no air getting in between the pillows and my back. Doug jumped up onto the bed and lay down next to me, pressing his back against my leg.
Since I’d already been there once, I didn’t feel like I needed as many Dumbo’s Feathers to get me over there today. I didn’t light a candle or incense, and I didn’t put the binaural beats in my ears because I was a little worried those would just put me off to sleep since I was so tired. I didn’t walk the circle of protection around my room, but I did spend a few moments envisioning the bubbles of protection around the whole property, around my son’s house, around my house, and then I imagined a fiery circle of power around my bedroom. I wiggled a little to crack my back and my neck. I cracked my jaw. Then I settled in to go on my journey. I relaxed every muscle group in my body, starting from my feet and working up to my head. I let myself feel floaty but present in the room for a moment. Then I imagined the open field, the patch of dirt, and my shovel. I held the image of the Shaman’s Door in Memphis in my mind. I knew that coming back through that door was going to make them upset, but I was worried that if I didn’t focus on something known in their world that didn’t exist in mine, I might not make it to the right place. I started digging. I dug down and down and down until a bright light appeared in front of me and a circular portal opened up as I pushed the shovel through one last bit of dirt. Some dirt fell out onto the floor of the Knight’s Mare as the image of the inside of the room came clear.
The five people I had seen last night were all in the room, more or less in the same places where I’d left them, plus one new person was there. Morrison the Sorcerer stood across from Mica. All eyes snapped up to the open portal.
I dropped my shovel to the ground and held my hands up in the air. Without stepping through I said, “I was knocked out last night and when I got home I really needed some sleep. I came back because I hope that we can get past whatever challenges we have, and also I want you to know that I’m not an enemy or a threat, even if you won’t help me. May I come in?”
Morrison looked a little perturbed. “Don’t just stand there. We need to talk.” He pointed at the chair I had been sitting in last night and my body was yanked out of the portal and into the chair. As soon as my body was in the chair, some sort of magical ropes wrapped around me and secured me to the chair. My legs were tied to the chair legs. My arms were pressed in at the sides of my body. Only my head had freedom of movement. Morrison looked me up and down and said, “You are a mess.”
I looked down and I certainly was. I was covered in dirt. Now that I noticed it, my scalp started itching from the dirt in my hair. And then my neck itched. And then my nose itched. I knew it would drive me crazy if I let it, but I hoped that if I just ignored it I could zen the itchiness away.
“This is just a precaution,” Morrison said, “So that you don’t disappear on us again like you did an hour ago.”
Oh, so in local time I’d only been gone an hour. Now it makes sense why the same people are here with the exception of Morrison who was being called in when I got punched.
“I won’t disappear if everyone can avoid knocking my lights out. He hit me so hard I had a bruise on my real body!” I protested.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know that even with your lights out, these bonds will keep you locked to this seat in this dimension.” Morrison’s tone was not kind or friendly. It seemed like he had already decided I was some kind of bad guy.
This second try was going worse than my first. I took a deep breath and was relieved to find that the tight bonds did not restrict the movement of my body for breathing. I wondered if the bonds had any notion of other physical needs. I leaned my face down and scrunched up my nose. A loop of magical rope grew out of the ropes that were binding me and made a solid shape in front of my face. I rubbed the itchy places against the rope which was hard and also had a coarse texture that was perfect for scratching. I breathed a sigh of relief and then lifted my head. The coil was reabsorbed into the bindings. Morrison watched this with a stony face I could not read. Red Head Lady seemed a bit impatient and annoyed with me. Angry Man stood to the side in his security detail pose like a solid wall of muscle. The rest of the room was just tense.
Mica spoke to Morrison, “Well, since he’s here again, could you take a look and see who he is and what he’s really up to?”
“And how the hell he got through the wards!” Added Red Head Lady.
“It will be my pleasure.” Morrison responded as he stepped in front of me.
The chair levitated so that he wouldn’t have to lean over to put his hands on my head. His purple cloak kind of blew around him as if there was a wind in the room, even though there was none. He looked into my eyes and I felt myself snap into his control. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t move at all. It felt as if he was even controlling my breathing and my heart rate which slowed way down as he started to explore inside my head.
Then everything went dark. I couldn’t feel my body at all. I couldn’t see anything or hear anything. I felt like I was in a black room with no lights and no sound. I sort of wanted to panic, but I couldn’t. It was as if even my emotions had been removed from me. I don’t know how long I was like that, but all of a sudden, the black room turned into a well lit room in a castle or… no. It was a well lit room in my own Memory Palace. I recognized the room, even though a few changes had been made. Chief among the changes was that I was sitting on a chair that sat atop a stone dais near a window with Morrison standing in front of me, hands gently holding my head with his fingers on several pressure points on my skull. The stone dais and the chair were not normally in this room. The view out the window was the usual one, however.
“You have an excellent Memory Palace, Uri,” Morrison’s tone had changed from harsh to friendly. I wasn’t sure what was going on.
I wasn't strapped into the chair in this place, but I still couldn't get out of it. I could however control my own eye movements and breathing, and I could talk. “What are we doing here?”
“Well, I’m still looking around, but I figured that you deserved to be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. I’m sorry that things started out so harsh. You have to understand, we were alarmed by your presence and your repeated breaking of the wards on this portal. But I get it now. You didn’t actually use the portal, per se. Not like most people use it. You made your own portal. You just piggy backed on the image to help you find your destination.” He was clearly reassured by this information, but I suspect that he’d also found some other information that was making him a bit nicer to me.
“You get yourself into some very interesting trouble, Uri. I’m somewhat impressed.”
I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean. I also noticed that he was calling me Uri. Was he being casual with me to set me off my guard or was he just the sort of person who uses nicknames with people even when they first meet them?”
“Oh, I apologize. I didn’t mean to be inappropriately casual. I can call you Uriel if you prefer.” Of course, he can hear my thoughts. It’s all thoughts in here.
“Yeahhhh, my friends call me Uri. No offense, but I never thought of you as someone I was gonna be friends with.”
Maybe it’s not such a good idea to antagonize the person who can stop your heartbeat with a thought.
“No, I get it. Also, I don’t kill people unless doing so is necessary to stop them from killing others. You don’t qualify for the heart stoppage.” Morrison was definitely trying to put me at ease now. I’d never seen him so relaxed in conversation with an adversary. He was talking to me like an ally. Maybe that meant that he’d figured out that I was an ally.
“OK, Uriel, look, this is gonna be uncomfortable, but I have to do it to be thorough. We’re going back to your home dimension.” And with that the Memory Palace disappeared and my eyes opened up in my real bedroom.
I was there with him, in my body, looking out through my own eyes, feeling all the sensations that my body could feel, but I was not in control. Morrison was in the driver’s seat and I was just along as a passenger. The first thing he noticed was my dog Doug snuggled up next to me. He reached one arm out of the covers and scritched Doug’s head. Then he pulled my arm back under the covers because it was cold. Doug shifted and put his head on top of my thigh.
We looked around the room. My desk was a mess. It held two laptops and a large screen up on an arm. There was a printer to the left of the computers and then a bookshelf with printer paper, various office supplies, and a few books relevant to projects I’d been working on recently. The rest of the bookshelves were over-stuffed. The clean laundry was still sitting in the basket while the dirty laundry sat in a pile behind the laundry basket where it couldn’t be seen by the camera on my computer when I was on videoconferences. On the wall next to my bed, we looked at the Cascadian trans flag for a moment. I could sort of feel Morrison watching my thoughts as we looked at it in order to understand what it meant to me. He wasn’t just looking at my room. He was also looking at how I felt about the things in my room.
Directly beyond the foot of the bed was my chest of drawers, and on top of that was an altar space with a cloth underneath and an assortment of things on top. An incense holder. A couple of candle holders. Some stones. A conch shell with a bundle of sage in it. A tiny cast iron cauldron that I use for safely burning loose incense on top of coals and sometimes for setting fire to things written down on very small pieces of paper.
He scanned the bookshelves to see what was up there. A bunch of language study books and dictionaries. Lakota, Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, Chinook Wawa. A bunch of tech books. Unix internals, language references, a CISSP exam study guide, Applied Cryptography. Squished between the study guide and the cryptography book was a misplaced book called Disaster Spiritual Care. I mentally pointed out that there wasn’t enough room for it on the religious studies and pastoral care shelf below, as if I needed to defend my library management skills to him. He nodded my actual head to let me know he understood. That was weird. One shelf had books about plant biology, herbal medicine, midwifery, and food foraging. He noticed that on the religious bookshelf and the plant bookshelf some of the books were in Spanish or Hebrew. When I felt him notice that I thought, “One of my goals is to get good enough at Arabic so that I can add some Arabic texts to both of those shelves.” I felt my own face smile, but it was his smile not mine.
The shelf underneath the religious studies books had a big box with flowers and bees on it that said, “Seek Peace.” He wanted to look inside, so he climbed out of bed. As he stood up, he looked down at my body and realized that I was standing buck naked. I could feel his shock as he realized that this body was not at all like the body of the person in the journey space. He wrapped my arms around my breasts in shock and jumped back under the covers. He popped us back to the Memory Palace and said, “Sorry about that.”
“Um, yeah, you left me lying down. I’m gonna fall asleep like that and might disappear from your world.” I said.
“You won’t leave our world if you fall asleep right now, but I do understand your concern. I’ll let you get comfortable and then we’ll come back here.” He responded.
My eyes opened again. I pushed my pillows back into place as a backrest and got myself back into a comfortable seated position. I pulled the covers back up around my neck. Doug stood up, turned around once, and then settled back down next to me with his back pressed against my leg.
As soon as I was back in my original position, Morrison took control again and pulled me back into the Memory Palace.
“Can you show me that box?” He asked. He could have just gone for the memory on his own, but now he was letting me be a part of the process. I showed him my mental image of what was in the box. An assortment of incense. Several tarot decks and a couple of other card decks. Small candles in just about every color you could want. Some essential oils that I only used for magic and not for other purposes.
“There might be some other things in there that I’m not remembering.” I said.
“No, that’s OK. That’s good enough. I don’t need every last detail, just broad strokes. I’ll admit, I’m kind of enjoying some of the details, though. You’re a pretty interesting guy, Uriel. Maybe someday you’ll change your mind about us being friends.”
And with that we were back in the Knight’s Mare and the bonds had disappeared from around my body. I stayed put, but couldn’t help myself from reaching up to scratch my head. Dirt fell out of my hair and got stuck in my nails. I looked down at the floor a little embarrassed.
Morrison gestured to Mica and the two of them walked over to a corner of the room to consult. I could see their lips moving and I could see the hand gestures of a friendly conversation, but there was no sound at all. I realized that Morrison had probably put them into a privacy bubble. After a few minutes they came back over to the table.
“Alright,” Mica started, “You have been vetted and found worthy, apparently.” He gave a little, half teasing bow. “Morrison thinks that you are good people, but I have a few concerns about your request. I could certainly teach you about community organizing and project management, but Morrison here tells me that you were really hoping to learn how to be a better practical fighter as well. He also tells me that you have less than stellar health.”
I looked at Morrison and then at Mica, wondering what that was supposed to mean.
“Look,” Morrison said, “The last time you went into the field in your own world you ended up in the hospital after catching a minor cold. You got some pretty concerning heart and lung damage when you spent a winter in a tent in North Dakota a few years back, and although you are getting your health back slowly, you still have a long way to go before it’s safe for you to be out in the field like that again.
“I just want to say, though, what you have been doing over the last year has really made a difference. Your hawthorn medicine is repairing a lot of that damage. Keep that up.”
Mica looked over at Morrison and said, “Once a family doctor, always a family doctor, eh?”
Mica continued, “Honestly, I think that you would be better off going with Morrison to New York. He’s got a much bigger community at his house. There’s a formal school there where you can take classes–”
“And teach some, if you would be willing,” Morrison interrupted.
“It just seems like a better place for you to be right now.” Mica finished.
“I know that I’m not your favorite person on this planet, Uriel, but I’m not the cold hearted person that you think I am, and a lot of the less savory impressions you have of me from the stories you’ve been reading are things that I have long since outgrown. That said, if you come to New York with me there are many, many people who live, study, and work at the Beit Shalom building and you could find everything you are looking for without ever having to see me at all.”
Mica jumped back in, “I for one think that, based on your magical skills and inclination, Morrison and his crew are exactly the people you need to learn from. They can teach you how to do the work without taking unnecessary risks to your health and wellbeing.”
“Well, we’re all risking death when we stand toe to toe with someone who wants us dead,” I said.
“Yes, but we don’t have to help them kill us,” Mica responded.
“Fair.” I answered.
“So it’s settled?” Morrison asked as he drew a circle in the air in front of himself and a portal appeared. “You coming?”
“Alright.” I got up from the chair and Morrison gestured me through the portal. I looked over my shoulder for one last look at Mica and his friends whose names I never got, “Bye. Maybe I’ll see you sometime.”
“I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” said Mica as he waved. The rest of the people in the room just stood there as they watched Morrison step through the portal after me and then the portal closed.
“How come we didn’t use the Shaman’s Door?” I asked as I looked around the new room.
“I don’t need the Shaman’s Door, and also there isn’t one in this room. It’s my living room. I figured it would be better if we skipped the foyer which can get very busy at this time of day. Also, I didn’t want you tracking dirt through the whole place.” He paused, looked over his shoulder and called, “Shaun?”
“Yessir,” A middle aged man showed up in one of the three open doorways that led to other parts of the residence.
“Could you please find Uriel here some clothes and shoes? He needs to get cleaned up before we head outside.”
Shaun looked me up and down. “Sure thing. I’ll be right back.” He opened a magical portal and I could see a laundry facility on the other side. He stepped through and the portal closed.
“I guess Shaun doesn’t need Shaman’s Doors either!” I said. Of course I knew that in the comics, both of them used magic portals all the time, but in the 19 Crows book everyone used the Shaman’s Doors to get around because they were convenient and didn’t take as much effort.
“Shaman’s Doors are for people who can’t really do magic, or who are just novices. Shaun on the other hand probably knows more magic than I do. He just prefers a lower pressure job behind the scenes.”
Just then Shaun popped back into the room through a new portal. “You call keeping you out of trouble a low pressure job? You have got to be out of your mind.” Shaun stepped toward me and handed me a bundle with a clean towel, a set of clothing, and a pair of new looking canvas slip on shoes.
I took the bundle from Shaun and said, “Thank you.”
Morrison pointed towards a closed door on the opposite side of the room from the open doorways and said, “The guest bathroom has a shower stall. Just toss your dirty clothes and shoes in the laundry basket there and we’ll get them back to you later.”
I went into the bathroom and closed the door behind myself. It was small, but had the look of a place that had received the loving care of someone who actually enjoys interior design. It may be a guest bathroom, but it felt quite homey. I put the fresh clothes on the counter next to the sink and tucked the towel into the towel rack on the outside of the shower door. I took off my shoes and socks and put them gently into the laundry basket so that I wouldn’t spread more dirt around than necessary. I peeled off my dirty clothes and tossed them into the laundry basket. I looked down at my naked body and felt good. I ran my hands down my flat chest in amazement and grabbed my junk which felt reassuringly real. I wished that I could have this body in the real world, but I was happy to have it here, at least.
I opened the shower door, turned on the water, and stepped in. The water felt great, and it was a relief to be able to wash all the dirt out of my hair and off my scalp. A few minutes later I was clean and smelling like sandalwood. I dried myself in the shower before stepping out and putting the fresh clothing on. The underwear Shaun gave me were the sort of tighty whities I would never wear in the real world, but the rest of the clothing was comfortable. The pants were black cotton and closed with a drawstring. The shirt was also a loose fitting cotton thing with long sleeves, no collar and buttons that went a little less than half way down the front. I slipped on the canvas shoes over short ped socks. I checked myself in the mirror and finger brushed my towel-dried short hair. Then I tossed the towel into the laundry and opened the door back to the living room.
“Hey, uh, is there a broom around here? I can clean up the dirt on the floor before we go.” I asked, gesturing at the dirt that had fallen to the floor when I took off my clothes.
“Don’t worry about it. Shaun will take care of it. You can help him clean up some other mess next time.” Shaun nodded and gave a thumbs up as Morrison said this, maybe so I wouldn’t feel so bad about it. But I still felt a bit sheepish.
Morrison was ready to go, though, “Let’s head over to the college. I’m going to introduce you to Sandy so she can show you around and get you acquainted with the place.”
We walked out the front door of Morrison’s residence into a space that looked like it was simultaneously indoors and outdoors. If you craned your neck up, you could see that there was a roof overhead, but the space felt like a small town. As we walked down a tree lined sidewalk, Morrison pointed out the elementary school building, a residential hall for kids under 18 who lived here without their families, and a high school building. A little further down the way was a three story building with large glass windows facing the sidewalk so that you could see what was happening inside: Dance, martial arts, and something that looked kind of like parkour classes were going on right now.
“That building also has a weight gym and a swimming pool in the back. I know you like archery. We have an indoor archery range there, too. You can check in at the desk to schedule time with a personal trainer who can help you plan your studies and workouts.” Morrison explained as we passed by.
“Here we are,” Morrison said as he opened the door to the next building. The sign overhead said, “Department of Magic and Medicine Work”. We walked down the hallway past classrooms and instructor’s offices, then up one flight of stairs at the end of the hall, and stopped in at a lab on the second floor.
A young woman barely over 5 feet tall with short curly brown hair wearing a lab coat over a pair of loose fitting white linen slacks and a light green linen blouse with a tie up front design looked up from her work. “Uncle Morrison!” she called as she came over to give the tall sorcerer a big hug. He wrapped his arms around her and picked her up in the air before putting her down again. He looked warm and happy in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen him portrayed in the comic books.
“This is my calabash niece, Sandy. Sandy, this is Uriel. He’s going to be doing some… let’s call it postdoc work… here at the college. Can you show him around and introduce him to some people?”
“Sure thing! Hi, Uriel! You’re gonna love it here. We’ve got all the fun toys.”
“See? I knew you were the perfect person to show Uriel around. You wouldn’t do anything to scare him away.”
“Me? Scare a newbie on his first day at the college? Never!” Sandy’s fake innocent look and maniacal laughter afterward told me that she had definitely put someone through a bit of a hazing ritual before. Maybe several someones.
“Not this time, though, OK? For real. I need Uriel here.” Morrison stopped himself and reconsidered his words, “I’d really like to have Uriel stay at the college. He’s got some very particular skills that I think will round out our faculty if he agrees to join.”
“OK, OK.” Sandy rolled her eyes dramatically, teasing her uncle, then put up her left hand and said, “I promise not to scare Uriel off.”
“That’s the wrong hand.” Morrison pointed out.
“Woops? Is it?”
Morrison bent over and poked Sandy in the belly, then picked her up and turned her upside down. She laughed and said, “Stop it! I’m not a little kid any more!”
“You seem pretty little to me!” He said as he put her back on her feet.
She got a serious face, but I wasn’t sure if it was real serious or just play serious, and said, “Hey! No short jokes.”
“Ok, you be good.” and then Morrison turned to me and said, “Uriel, don’t worry. You are in good hands. I’ll see you later.” He started to walk out the door.
“Wait! Morrison!” Sandy called to him.
He stopped in the middle of the doorway and turned around, “Yes?”
“Are you coming to the movie tonight? We’re watching the new Star Wars movie and the caff is serving pizza!”
“What good is pizza gonna do me?” he asked.
“Well, I dunno. Maybe you can ask the caff staff to make you some special icky food pizza.”
“Oh, sweet. That’ll make it better.” He made a face at her. “Yeah, I’ll probably come and watch the movie. Sounds like fun. See you later.”
He closed the door and I was alone with Sandy and some strangers in a lab in the School Of Magic And Medicine Work. My mind swam a little bit at the thought of it. This wasn’t the goal that I had when I decided to come to this world in a meditative journey, but actually this might be way better than anything I had imagined.
“Where’re you from?” Sandy asked.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to answer that question. “Um. Well, that’s complicated. I live in Walla Walla, Washington these days.” That was the best I could think of, and felt a bit dumb. I decided to change the subject quickly. “You and Morrison seem pretty close.” I said.
“Yeah. He took me in after my parents died. They were good friends of his. I lived with him for a while, he built an extra bedroom in his residence for me and everything, and then he started the boarding school so that I wouldn’t be the only kid around. He still keeps my room, and I hang out over there at Christmas time and stuff.”
“Oh, wow. I never knew about any of that.” I was taken aback at this revelation into a part of Morrison’s life that never showed up in the comic books.
“Do you know him well?” Sandy asked.
I laughed and tried to decide what to tell her. I decided to just tell her the truth, “Actually, I never met him before today. I’ve just read all the comic books he’s in. In my world, there’s no Morrison the Sorcerer except in comic books and a couple of novels.”
“What? That’s cool! Interdimensional traveler! So, how did you get here?”
“Well, this is kind of embarrassing. You see, I wanted to learn from Mica Johnson in Memphis, so I went on a journey to find him and popped up uninvited at his hang out. Seems that he and his posse weren’t too keen on a stranger showing up through their Shaman’s Door, and things got a little rough. They called Morrison over to figure out how I got there and who I really was. Long story short, I was not invited into the Memphis community, but I was invited to come here with you all.”
“You breached the wards on the Shaman’s Door in the Knight’s Mare? Dayum! Mad skillz!” She was heartily impressed. “What other kind of stuff do you do?”
“Um, I dunno. Healing stuff. Some time dilation and time contraction stuff. A bit of minor weather magic. Basic spell casting. Nothing fancy.”
“That’s a lot of very different disciplines. So, uh, what kind of healing stuff do you do?” She asked.
“I mean, I have practical skills in herbal medicine, Thai Yoga Massage, and general midwifery. I’ve served as a doula for a bunch of mommas. I’ve never actually been the one to catch a baby, but I’ve learned how in case I’m ever in an emergency situation.”
“Those kind of emergencies don’t happen as often as you’d think from TV,” She said it like she thought I was maybe a little over zealous on the baby catching thing.
“Yeah, but I’ve lived in some pretty low resource places where it can be hard to get to a medical facility, and I’ve also been in a few warzones where transport to a medical facility might be treacherous, so it felt like an appropriate skill to develop.”
“OK, so, what would you do about a thing like this?” She held up her left arm and pulled her sleeve back to show a bandage wrapped around her forearm.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“It was kind of a chemical burn, but it happened in the middle of a failed spell, and nothing I’ve tried so far has cleared it up. The doctor says this is just one of those things I’m gonna have to give my body time to heal while I keep putting salve on it every day.”
“Yeah, well, that is a thing. Sometimes healing just takes patience. But, I can see if I can give it a nudge so it heals a little faster. Can you take off the bandage so I can see what’s going on?”
“Sure!” and she started to pick at the tape holding the bandage closed.
“Wait, do you have replacement bandages in here for after?”
“Oh, yeah. There’s a bunch in the cabinet right up there.” She pointed.
I went to the cabinet and grabbed a pair of sterile gloves, a fresh bandage, a roll of tape, and a tube marked “Marsha’s antibiotic ointment”. I turned to Sandy, holding up the tube and asked, “Is this for general use?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. I have my special salve here in my backpack.”
I left the ointment in the cabinet and then stepped over to the sink to wash my hands. I walked back over to Sandy who had removed her bandage. The wound looked pretty gnarly. The edges of the skin looked as if they were peeled back, and the center of the wound was red and oozing. “Yipes! You got yourself good there, young lady.” I put the gloves, fresh bandage and tape down on the counter in front of us. “I’ll put the gloves on when I put your bandage back, but I won’t touch you while I’m doing the energy stuff.”
I took a deep breath, put my hands in front of me, palms facing each other a few inches apart, and imagined pulling energy up from my feet and down through my head, sucking in energy from the air through every surface of my body, and focusing it all into my hands. Then I envisioned a ball of healing light. A ball of blue light appeared between my hands and I yelped. “Woah!” I pulled my hands apart expecting the ball to go away, but it just got bigger. “Holy, oh my God!”
“What?” Sandy was alarmed by my alarm.
I laughed with surprise and delight, “This does not happen when I’m back home!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, there’s nothing visible. It’s just energy that you can kinda feel, but you can’t see anything.”
“Really? Then how do you know that it’s working?” She asked.
“You don’t, until there are or are not any results.” I responded.
“That doesn’t sound fun.”
I was still laughing, giggling really, because of the way that I could see the energy respond to my movements and mental shifts. This is why fictional world magic is so much more satisfying than real world magic. I remembered why I was focusing the energy, so I turned to Sandy and said, “Put out your arm.”
She put her arm out for me, and I pressed the ball of energy into her wound as I imagined it cleaning up, the blood vessels healing, any dangerous microbes being destroyed, the body’s systems being supported to work extra quickly, the cells in her body repairing the skin and other damaged tissue. As I did that we watched her arm heal in real time. Everything that I was imagining was happening on her arm as I imagined it. Less than a minute later, her arm was completely healed.
Sandy’s eyes were as big as saucers. She couldn’t stop staring at her arm. “What the absolute, mind blowing, heck? ‘Just some healing stuff’” she mocked my voice, “‘Nothing fancy.’ Nothing fancy, my patootie!” She held her arm over her head and called to the other people in the lab, “Do you guys see this? He just healed it! Look! It’s fixed!”
Everyone else in the lab just stood there with wide eyes and shocked faces.
“Um, it’s not that dramatic when I’m back home. Really. I think I just have a boost because I’m in this dimension.” I demurred.
“Boost, shmoost. You have to have the skills in the first place to be able to wield energy like that. This is why Morrison wants you at the college. Yep! I’m gonna be signing up for your seminars, mister!” Sandy announced.
“Uh, sir, what’s your name?” One of the other people in the lab had his hand raised as he asked.
“I’m Uriel Pardo.”
“Nice to meet you, professor Pardo.” He said.
“Just Uriel is fine.”
I turned my attention back to Sandy, “Hey, look, we’re not done though. You said it was a magical accident, so let’s make sure you don’t have any residual nastiness going on.”
I shook my hands out and then put both hands around her arm just below the elbow. I ran my fingers down the sen energy lines in her arm and then shook away excess energy. Sparks flew off my fingers as I shook my hands out. I did the same motion three times, and then I put pressure on a series of points on her arm and then three points on her hand. I gestured for her to give me the other arm. “I need to do the opposite side so you don’t end up with a weird imbalance, like when you injure your leg and then you end up with pain on the opposite side from compensating for the injury.” I pushed a small amount of energy into her right arm, which her body absorbed, and then I repeated the massage of the sen lines on her arm and pressing on the pressure points. “Alright. That should do you.” I said as I finished.
I picked up the wound care supplies that I had taken out of the cabinet and returned them to their place since they were unopened and unneeded.
Everyone in the lab was still staring at me. I didn’t know what to say or do. I looked to Sandy.
She helpfully suggested that we go on that tour that Morrison had told her to give me. She cleaned up her workspace quickly and grabbed her backpack. I waved and said goodbye to everyone in the room. I was glad that she hadn’t told me all their names because I never would have remembered them right now anyway.
I followed her down the stairs and out one of the two double doors on either side of the staircase on the ground floor. The college campus spread out in front of us looked similar to many college campuses around the US. An assortment of buildings with grassy fields, trees and paved walkways between them. There was a small duck pond in the center of the campus with benches at several spots around it and some picnic tables in the grass beside it. Near the picnic tables there was a food truck with a line of students waiting to order or receive their food. Students were sprawled out on the grass, sitting at tables, and sharing benches. Some were chatting, others had their heads buried in books. A few people on the grass on the side of the pond opposite the picnic tables were playing a game of frisbee. It was the most normal college campus scene you could imagine, until you looked up and saw that way above you there was the ceiling of a stone building that we were all obviously inside.
As we walked Sandy told me what was in each of the buildings in between asking me about myself and what brought me here. I didn’t go into a lot of detail about what brought me here, because I didn’t feel like she needed me to trauma dump on her when her own world has plenty of challenges. Looking around this place, though, it was hard to imagine the difficulties that existed outside.
When we came back around the path near the food truck, Sandy asked me if I was hungry. I realized that I was. I had eaten plenty back home, but it seemed like this body had its own need for food that was separate from what my real body wanted or needed. Maybe the exertion of the healing work had given me an appetite. I wasn’t sure how it all worked, but some food sounded good.
“One thing. I don’t have any money from this world,” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We work on Crow Economy around here. You do what you are good at. Other people do what they are good at. We all take care of each other. It’s a gift economy based on reciprocity. Status comes from how much you do for others or how much you give away, not on how much you have.”
I knew about the Crow Economy, but I had no idea that there were enclosed communities like this that worked completely on it. The 19 Crows book talks a lot about how the Crow Economy works amongst the Crows in places like Memphis, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; St Louis, Missouri; Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; and a few other cities around the US. When it’s in a city that has what the Crows call a “dominator economy”, there are a lot of different methods that they use to help manage the Crow Economy within the group of people who take part. Each community has slightly different rules that are decided through a process of consensus building. Sometimes consensus breaks down and there are splits, but there is a moral code that requires them to try to reunify if they can or to create inter-group trade agreements when they can’t.
When we walked up to the food truck I noticed that it had a placard on the side of the truck with a kashrut certification. I asked Sandy about that.
“Yeah, so, this building used to be a synagogue, and the guy who sort of founded this whole place along with Morrison was an observant Jew by the name of Akiva,” I knew that part of the story, but didn’t want to interrupt her explanation, “And there’s still a pretty large contingent of people who keep kosher here in this community. Not all of them are Jewish, either. The hashgacha, the, uh, guy who certifies that things are kosher, for our community goes beyond the ordinary rules of kashrut and also requires certain ecological and animal rights rules be met in order for the food to be considered kosher. There’s a bunch of people who don’t care about Jewish law but still want to maintain the eco-kashrut part. Also, in addition to keeping milk and meat separate for regular kashrut, there is a certification for vegan kitchens. Those have the v in a circle next to the kashrut stamp on the certificate. Not all food that is parve is vegan, so this extra level of strictness helps people who need that. The committee voted long before I was born that all food available in community kitchens should maintain a basic level of kashrut so that everyone could eat it, and the rules about separating vegan kitchens from the others were set in the early 2000s. This here is a meat truck. The main thing they do is toasted sandwiches with different kinds of meat, vegetables, and condiments. Is that OK for you?”
“Yeah, that works! But, what about pizza night?” I asked.
“Oh! Do you go by the six hour rule? Most of the folks around here who keep kosher go by a three hour rule between meat and milk.”
“No, no! Three hours is good by me. But, what do you put on your pizza?”
“Soy meat! If you like pepperoni and sausage, you are gonna LOVE this pizza. I’m serious, the lady who makes our imitation meat is a freaking genius.” She beamed.
We ordered our sandwiches, watched as they were prepared, and then sat down at one of the tables in the grassy field.
“Can you teach me how you did that energy healing thing on me?” Sandy asked between bites of her panini.
“Sure! It’s pretty basic stuff, really.”
Sandy gave me a look like I had just grown an extra head, “Basic? I don’t think so!”
“OK, well, the dramatic results might not have been basic, but the techniques were. Do you know how to gather up energy in general, for whatever purpose you need?”
“Mmmm… you mean like when you are doing a spell and you concentrate on the intent and that sends your intention into the spell?”
“No, more basic than that. Just, pull energy out of the elements around you.”
“I can hold a rock or a plant and borrow energy from that thing in my hand.” She explained.
“OK, but you’ve never just taken energy out of the air, earth, fire, and water around you? Not a specific item, just in general?”
She gave me that look of incomprehension again.
“Alright. Let’s establish some basics, then. First off, there are many different systems of magic. There are some unifying things between all of them, because magic is like physics in the sense that there’s some sort of underlying order to all of it, rules of nature if you will, but unlike physics most of those rules aren’t really well understood. A lot of people like to compare these magical rules to quantum physics, and that’s useful as a metaphor, but it breaks down when you get into some nitty gritty details. So if you ever hear me talking about magic in terms of quantum mechanics, know that I have run out of other useful metaphors and I’m not trying to talk BS, I’m just flailing about trying to find a way to make something obtuse seem a little more approachable.”
“In what universe is quantum mechanics approachable?” She asked doubtfully.
“Exactly. That’s why you should never try to explain magic that way, but I am guilty, guilty, guilty,” I beat my chest with my right hand with each repetition of the word guilty. “Sometimes it’s just hard to explain something that you have experienced but don’t have a good explanation for.
“Moving on! Magic has some basic rules, but since we don’t actually have a clear grasp on exactly what they all are, only some approximations that give us varying degrees of functional properties, we have a lot of different systems that have grown up in different cultures throughout human history. What seems basic to me is not basic to you most likely because the system that I was taught first is very different from the system or systems that you have been taught.
“You and I both understand that you can draw or, as you put it, ‘borrow’ energy from the things around us. In the system that you have learned, you do that on a one-to-one, item-by-item basis, if I’m understanding you correctly.”
Sandy nodded, “Mhm.”
“Alright, so in the system that I first learned as a kid, I was taught that the energy we want to work with is in everything. Absolutely everything. I was taught that it is useful to break down the flavors of energy into 4 basic ‘elements’ which are Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.
“Side note, in Chinese medicine there are five elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Does it matter if you use the four Greek elements or the five Chinese elements or some other system of elements entirely? No. It does not. Except that you are going to work slightly differently with the energies of the elements because how you conceive of the genres of energy will affect how that energy works for you.
“This is what I call ‘headology’”
“Oh! I’ve heard of ‘headology’! Morrison loves the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett!”
I smiled at the fact that Discworld books exist in this world. Every world needs some good satirical poking at cultural norms and expectations, and Terry Pratchett was a master of the art.
“Great. But let me explain how I define headology just to make sure we are on the same page. To me, headology is where psychology meets magic. Magic is affected by your thoughts. In fact, your thoughts are more important than any of the trappings in magic. You have some super complex spell that requires special spices from the top of a mountain gathered by a 200 year old woman on a Sunday in June, but the 200 year old woman just turned 201 and there’s no new 199 year old lady coming up behind? No problem. You didn’t really need that ingredient. You just needed the things that your head thought about that ingredient. So break down what was important about being 200, about being a woman, about that particular mountain, about that particular spice, etcetera and figure out how you can create that same mental picture with something else, or with just your thoughts.
“Think about fire. Describe it to me.” I said.
“It’s hot. It’s red and orange and yellow. It burns things. It transforms things.” She said.
“Is it always red, orange, and yellow?” I asked.
“No. Sometimes it can be other colors. Sometimes it can be white.” She replied.
“But when you first think of fire, you probably think ‘red’, right?”
“So, I want you to close your eyes and imagine a flame in front of you. Imagine that flame is red. It’s dancing. It’s not consuming anything right now. It just exists in the air in front of you. You got that in your mind now?”
I continued, “Now, put both your hands up in front of you, like you are reaching toward the flame, but not touching it. I want you to imagine that you are drawing energy from that flame into your body through your hands. Let me know when you feel energy moving from the flame towards your hands.”
“I feel it, and I see it,” she said right away.
“Great. Now tell me what that feels like.”
“It’s warming. It feels like it’s energizing me, like it’s making me kind of giddy and excited. It feels like, how do I explain it? It feels like inspiration! Like I want to run out and go do something right now, but I don’t know what.”
“That’s fantastic! I call that feeling you are describing the flavor of the energy. Now stop drawing energy for a moment and change the color of the flame. Make it white. Once the flame is white, I want you to draw energy into your hands again.”
“Ow! That burns!” she shouted with surprise and opened her eyes.
“Are you ok?” I leaned over to check on her.
Sandy looked at her hands and then back at me, “It felt like I was burning my hands, but there’s no burns.” She took in a deep breath and then let it out.
“Gotcha. Tell me, if you were to describe the difference between a red flame and a white flame, before you did this exercise, what would you say the difference was?”
“A white flame is extra hot.”
“Right. Your brain knows that a white flame is hotter than a red flame, so when you pulled energy from a white flame it was hotter than the energy from the red flame. That’s headology in action.”
She nodded to let me know she understood.
“OK. Next. You are surrounded by energy, and you can pull on it in lots of different ways, but because you are a unique being in an infinite universe, the way that works best for you is going to be different from the way that works best for someone else. I can tell you what I do, but you are going to have to experiment to figure out what you are going to do going forward. Alright?”
“Alright.” She nodded again.
“I usually think of two places that I’m pulling energy from. The ground beneath my feet and the air all around me. So, Earth and Air. I pull energy up from the center of the earth up into my feet, into my legs and into the core of my body and then send it to where I need it in my own body or out my hands into someone else’s body. I also pull energy in from the air through the top of my head specifically, and through the surface of my skin all over my body more generally. That also gets pulled into the core of my body and then sent where it needs to go.
“If I’m outdoors on a sunny day, then I like to pull energy from the sun, which is Fire, but I don’t really concentrate on it’s “fireness” so much as I just think about the sun being the driving force of all the other movement of energy on the planet. It provides the energy for everything else that happens through heat, through photosynthesis, and its entire spectrum of radiation. So I pull that energy in through the top of my head and also through any part of my skin that can feel the warmth of the sun.
“Now, once I have the energy in my body, I can shape it with my will. Here we’re getting back into headology. I like to bring the energy together into a ball in my hands before I start working with it. I don’t technically have to do that. I just like to do it, and after years of habit, that’s what works best for me. What is important, though, is that I picture in my mind what I want that energy to do. Do I want it to just go into someone so that their body can use it and figure out for itself what to do with it? Or do I want to be more specific and aim that energy for a specific purpose, say, healing an open wound? The more detail I put into my imagination of what I want the energy to do, the more specific the ‘spell’ is. I say spell, but you could also call it a medicine working, or you could call it something else entirely. Whatever word you like that helps you get your head around the idea that you can shape this energy with your imagination and then send it off to do what you just programmed it to do.
“Does that all make sense?”
I let her sit with that for a minute so that she could process what I had said.
“Alright. You want to give it a go?”
Sandy gave a nervous giggle and then took a deep breath, “Yes! What do I do?”
“Let’s start with a little self working. Sit with your feet on the ground and your back straight. Don’t close your eyes this time. Just let your imagination overlay with reality. Take a couple of deep breaths. Now imagine that you are pulling energy up from the center of the planet. You can pull up Earth energy or, if you prefer, you can imagine that you are pulling your energy from the molten lava deep underground and pull Fire energy. Whichever you like, or even both braided together. Pull that energy up through the ground into your feet, up your legs, and into the center of your being. Now shift your attention to what’s above you. Maybe it’s the Air all around you. Maybe it’s the Water as moisture in the air. Maybe it’s a bit of both blended together. Whatever feels better for you right now. Pull that energy in through the very top of your head, down your spine and into the core of your being. Feel the energy from below rising up and the energy from above coming down into the center of your being and blending together to become your own energy. This energy is now part of your body, part of your being, and you can shape it and tell it where to go. Now, send that energy down your arms and into your hands and start shaping it into a ball just like you would shape a lump of bread dough into a ball.”
As I said this a yellow ball formed between Sandy’s hands. It started out faint but it grew more and more solid, the color more intense and brilliant. She had to spread her hands apart a little as the ball grew in size.
“Good. Now I want you to imagine the feeling of joy that you get when you are around people you really love. The joy of being with your best friends, your uncle, all the people that you love. Pour that feeling of joy that comes from love into the ball of energy in your hands.”
The ball’s colors shifted back and forth between pink and yellow. At one point the ball turned into an almost cartoonish heart in her hands, and then it turned back into a bright yellow ball again.
“You are doing great. Now, take that ball of energy that you just charged and pull it right into your heart. Just push that whole thing into you and then let your heart spread it through your body along with your blood flow.”
She followed my directions as I gave them and then Sandy’s face lit up. She held her hands out to her sides and looked from one hand to the other. She put her hands up to the sides of her head and held it for a moment. Then she giggled and said, “Wow! That was cool!”
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Like I want to hug Everybody!” She shouted.
Some people looked over at us, and we both laughed. Sandy put her head down on the table in embarrassment about shouting, but got over it pretty quickly. Her head popped back up again and she said, “That’s it! You have a new sidekick. I’m going to follow you around everywhere. You are in trouble now, mister!” She giggled. “No, but really? I’m definitely signing up for your classes whenever I can. That was very cool.”
“I’m glad that I could be helpful!”
“We better keep touring, lest Morrison accuse me of failing at my duty!” Sandy said as she jumped up from the table.
We went over to throw our napkins and the little cardboard boat that the sandwiches came in into the compost bin. Then we continued walking back towards the building that we had started from. We went in through one of the big double doors. Just after we walked in, Sandy stopped and turned around.
“Morrison’s House is a big place. We’ve got somewhere around 20 thousand people in this town, and we’re all inside of a very old synagogue building. Obviously, if there were some emergency that affected the building that the whole town is in, we would have a big problem trying to get everyone out to safety through the doors to the building. So, we have these Shaman’s Doors over top of the exit ways from the buildings throughout the city.” She pointed to a symbol above the door we had just walked through. “In the event of an emergency, these will all glow red and if you look up at the Shaman’s Door as you walk through the physical door, it will deposit you out of the Beit Shalom Synagogue building and into one of the emergency gathering places.
These Shaman’s Doors are also useful for getting to various places around New York when there isn’t an emergency. These are one way doors. You can’t come back in through them. You can only go out. They are really useful for reducing travel times, though, and it also helps reduce the total traffic at the physical entry points of the original building. There is a map of which doors go to which places. I’ll find you a copy of it later,” she promised before turning around to continue on our tour.
We walked through the hallway towards the front of the building. We exited onto the sidewalk which was the main walkway in this part of the inside-outside town inside the giant old synagogue building.
My intellectual brain was aware that the building could not possibly be big enough to hold all the things inside it, but my lizard brain refused to accept that the building was anything other than a massive city-sized dwelling.
A few steps out onto the sidewalk and we ran into a man that looked like a dark skinned werewolf. He wore office casual slacks, a button up plaid shirt, and a vest that looked like a needlepoint picture of stacks of books. Long black hair stuck out under his pants legs, and his fur covered arms were visible up to the elbows where his shirt sleeves were rolled up. The fur on his neck was brushed neatly downward. His facial hair was tidy. On top of his head, between his pointed but slightly floppy dog ears and on both sides beneath them, he had tight cornrow braids. He said hello to Sandy and stopped to chat for a moment.
“Uriel, this is Harrold,” Sandy introduced me to the guy. He put out his hand to shake mine. It was a pretty normal human hand, just a little extra furry on the back. His nails were thick like a dog’s nails, but neatly trimmed and manicured. I noticed that the manicure was a little fancier than just a coat of polish, and I couldn’t help but grin as I reached for his hand.
Harrold noticed my grin and said, “Yeah, I don't normally have such flash nails, but I was chaperoning some high school girls before the Spring Fling dance on Friday and they insisted that if I was coming along I’d have to have my hair and nails done, too. You should have seen the look on that hairstylist’s face when the girls told her what they wanted her to do!” He laughed a deep, wholesome laugh. Even with a little bit of growl rolling underneath, his warm smile and demeanor made it utterly unthreatening.
Sandy said, “Uriel here is from Walla Walla. You guys might have some things in common!” Then she turned to me and said, “Kennewick, Washington is near Walla Walla, isn’t it?”
Harrold looked me up and down and said, “Oh, man, I’m sorry. Looks like you turned out OK, though. We’ll have to share stories some time.”
I realized that they were talking about the Harken Attack which had started at the Hanford Nuclear Facility and caused destruction over a huge area in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. That hadn’t happened in my world, of course, which is why I wasn’t killed or transformed by it.
“I, uh, wasn’t there for the incident,” I explained. It seemed the simplest way to get out of the conversation gracefully right then.
Harrold nodded gravely and said, “I’m so glad. You got lucky.” He turned to Sandy and said, “Hey I gotta get back to class.” He mocked primping his hair, “My adoring fans await.” Then he turned to me, shook my hand again and said, “It’s really nice to meet you. See you ‘round.”
As Harrold walked away, Sandy said, “Harrold is a history teacher at the high school. He was one of my favorite teachers when I was a kid.” Sandy couldn’t have been more than 20, and the irony of talking about being a kid as if it were in the distant past did not dawn on her.
When he was well down the walkway towards the high school entrance, I asked, “Does anyone call him Harry?”
“I heard that!” A booming voice came just as he opened the door to the school building. He looked back at me, grinned a canine grin that showed all his sharp teeth and pointed at me before going inside.
Sandy laughed so hard her face turned bright red. When she finally was able to breathe again, she shook her head and said, “No one calls him Harry. Mr Wilson. Harrold. Never Harry.”
Someone in a blue outfit looking very much like a tall elf, standing just behind Sandy said, “I’m pretty sure that it amuses him that his parents named him Harrold and he turned out to be a wolfman, though. He doesn’t show any signs of wanting a different name, and I’ve never seen him actually get mad when someone suggested that Harry would be a good nickname. Then again, no one suggests it twice, because no one wants to see what he’d do if he did get angry.”
Sandy turned around and gave this person a giant hug, “Jackson!!!” As she let go of Jackson, she pointed from one of us to the other and said, “Jackson, Uriel. Uriel, Jackson. Uriel is new here and will be working with Morrison on some stuff and hopefully teaching at the college. Jackson is on the security team. They do both physical and magical security. You two will definitely have interesting things to talk about.”
Jackson and I shook hands, “Cool. I’ll talk to Morrison and get the low down on your clearances, and then we can chat.”
They had set a clear boundary but kept the tone friendly. Even if they hadn’t, I understood precisely. I nodded and said, “I look forward to it.”
Sandy leaned in towards Jackson and said, “Uriel found a vulnerability in the Knights Mare Shaman’s Door wards.”
Jackson’s eyes got big and they made a sound like “tshoooo”. “Welp, we are definitely going to be having a chat soon. I’ll pester Morrison to make sure it’s a priority.”
I felt a little guilty, but knew how to save the moment, “You know what they say. It’s good to have your friends break your stuff so your enemies won’t get to.”
“Absolutely. For sure.” Jackson agreed.
Just then Jackson snapped their head up towards a spot just above us. I followed their eyes to see what they were looking at, but there was nothing that I could see out of the ordinary. Sandy’s eyes were on Jackson. A moment later, Jackson looked at us again and said, “Sorry, gotta run. There’s an emergency,” before turning back the way they had come and running.
Several other people started running the same direction that Jackson went, while the rest of the people noticed the commotion and stepped into the buildings that they were closest to.
I turned to Sandy, “What’s up?”
She had a serious look on her face, “I don’t know, but we should probably get back to the college campus so that we’re out of the way of anyone heading where Jackson just went.”
Before we had the chance to step back into the college, though, I heard Morrison’s voice as if he were standing right next to me. “Uriel, we have an emergency. There’s an active attack on the city from an extradimensional entity. If you are willing to assist, please ask Sandy to bring you to the foyer.”
I didn’t know what to do, so I just spoke out loud, “Be right there!” and then I turned to Sandy and said, “Can you take me to the foyer?”
“What? No! Why?!” She didn’t realize that I was responding to a request from Morrison.
“Morrison asked me to come help. He said that if I was willing, to ask you to get me to the foyer.”
“Oh! OK, sure!” She grabbed my hand and we both started running down the sidewalk.
We reached a spot at about the middle of the inside-outside town sidewalk. There was a wall of colored glass and iron, and doors that led out of the place where we were. I couldn’t see anything on the other side of the door past the reflections of the space where we were. Sandy pushed open one of the doors and pulled me through.
This was the foyer. It was more or less what you might expect to see in a foyer at the front of a large old synagogue. Stairs on each side that must have gone up to a balcony back when the building was used for its original purpose. A door on each side of the foyer marked “restrooms”. A wide open space where some people were gathered. Art and memorials and announcements on different parts of the entry hall walls. Doors to the outside.
In the center of the small crowd of people, Morrison floated slightly above the crowd so that he could be seen and heard by everyone. He saw Sandy and me and gestured for me to join the group.
Morrison was already filling the group in about what they were facing, “...looks like just one dragon, but we can’t be sure that there aren’t others. We need to find the rip that they used to come through, and we need to push them back onto their own side of the rift and then repair the dimensional membranes. Marcus, Linda, Leaf, you three will follow the tracks back to where the dragon came through and then send Leaf back to guide the rest of us to that spot. Jackson, Thomas and Uriel, I need you three to back me up. I should be able to convince our visitor to head back to the rip, but if I get into trouble I need you to keep him from killing me. In the event I need tight coordination of action, I will use Uriel because he’s not only highly skilled, we also have a slight communication advantage when time is of the essence,”
Everyone looked at me, but I actually had no idea what he was talking about. I just touched my right hand to my eyebrow in a casual salute so that it would look like I was confident.
Morrison continued, “Everyone else, your job is to keep the people on the street safe. Get them out of harm's way as fast as you can. Use your words if possible, move people physically if necessary. Avoid injury to yourself and others.
“This is a first for a couple of you. You’ll be fine out there today. You’ve trained for this. Trust your training. Trust your muscle memory and your rules of conduct.
And with that, everyone in the group began to file out the front doors and onto the street.
Morrison dropped out of his floating position and stepped over to Sandy and me. “Sandy, you get back inside and stay safe. Uriel and I will be back in time for Star Wars.”
Sandy looked at us both with worry in her face. “You better be.” She watched us leave the building before going back inside toward the college.
As Morrison and I stepped outside I heard him in my head again, **Hey, I hope that you don’t mind that I’m using our already established link like this. Normally after a link like that it’ll take a few days for it to completely dissipate. You never got to give informed consent for continued use, but this is an emergency now, and it’ll be very useful.**
**I don’t mind. Especially under the circumstances. We can let the link close when we don’t need it any more.**
**Thanks. I appreciate your willingness to jump in and help.**
I barely noticed the scenery as we double time marched together down the street in search of the dragon. I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary other than people running towards us and into various buildings. We were just running towards whatever everyone else was running away from. At last I caught a glimpse of the thing we were looking for. A long green tail flicked in the air, and a moment later I saw one of the dragon’s giant wings.
**Our goal is to enclose the dragon in a shield so that it can’t damage anything, and then move it back to the rip where it came through. We want to avoid hurting it if at all possible. We just want him to go to his own home. Beware, though, this guy may spit fire and acid, so keep your own shields up, too. Can you fly?**
I thought that I probably could, since this world is a little like a dream world for me, and I can fly in dreams. I took a little hop and pushed away from the ground. I started to float upward. It felt like when you turn magnets so that two north poles are facing each other. As I always do in dreams, I imagined that my flight was powered by some kind of electromagnetism that I could manipulate with my mind. I could use it to gently pull towards things I wanted to get closer to or to push away from things that I wanted to get away from, like the ground.
Morrison saw me take off and he floated upwards as well, **Great, you’ll be able to help me more up here,** he continued to speak inside my head, **Now, let’s get up there on opposite sides of the dragon and enclose him. Shields on!**
Jackson and Thomas were left on the ground. I wasn’t sure exactly what they would be doing from down there, but I imagined that they could probably throw fireballs or some other kind of magic weapon to help us. Once I was more than a few feet off the ground, though, I lost sight of them as I focused on the dragon.
I encircled myself with a transparent egg of protective energy. I charged it with the intent that anything that hit it would bounce right off. We flew up toward the dragon, but it saw us coming and turned itself toward us. It started barreling through the air in our direction. I grew my own egg large enough to encircle Morrison as well, and then I made it so that anything inside the egg was invisible.
The dragon stopped its forward motion and turned itself upward again. It flew in a figure eight, up and back down, round one direction and then the other, trying to figure out where we had disappeared to.
**Can you make yourself invisible if I shrink my shield back down to myself?**
**Yes. Thank you. That was quick thinking.**
He switched himself invisible and I shrank my shield back down to just covering myself. The dragon was now moving a lot more than it had been before. It was covering a few city blocks in its circles, and we had to catch up to it and then stay alongside it while we enclosed it. It was a struggle to keep up. Several times we almost got lined up, but then the dragon zigged when we expected it to zag and we were left floating in empty space over the city.
After a few tries, I sent Morrison a mental message, **What if we try a different tack? I’ll come up in front of it and let it see me once I’m high enough that its fire won’t burn any buildings. I’ll project a shield forward as I go so that hopefully I can catch any fire or acid before it hits anything or falls to the ground. Then, with his attention on me, we should be able to control what direction he goes next.**
**Let me go in front. Don’t get yourself hurt. It’s your first time out here..**
**This isn’t my real body. The dragon can’t hurt me.**
**I’m not sure that’s true.**
I was already heading to the front of the dragon, which Morrison could sense because we were using the mind connection not just to talk but also to feel exactly where the other person was and what they were doing since we were both flying around invisible. When I was about 25 feet in front of the dragon, I projected a purple egg shield toward him. It wasn’t the full egg shape, just the pointy end of an egg growing outwards around the front of the dragon’s head. The visible shield got the dragon’s attention, which was perfect because he headed straight into it as I made myself visible behind the shield. Morrison was already at the back side of the dragon and projected out the other side of the bubble around it. His golden shield and my purple shield met in the middle and their energies mixed creating a dazzling design like a hand painted Easter egg.
The dragon thrashed inside the bubble. We had trouble holding it in place, and keeping the structure strong. Acid hit the inside of the shield and sizzled but did not breach its boundary. The dragon banged its head and tail against the inside of the bubble, and the whole thing moved violently with each hit.
I flew up to the glowing containment, right near the dragon’s head, and put my hands on the outside of the bubble. I leaned my head against the shield and spoke out loud in the most calming voice I could while projecting images from my mind into his, “Hey there, hey there, calm down. We’re not gonna hurt you. It’s OK. It’s OK.” The dragon’s writhing became a little less violent, but he was still wiggling around inside and pushing against the edges of the bubble. “You seem to have gotten lost, hun. This isn’t your home, is it? This must be so scary. I can only imagine.” The dragon looked right at me and then put the top of its head against mine with just the bubble of energy between us. “We’re gonna get you home, OK? Is that OK?” The dragon did not respond. It just stayed there with its head pressed up to mine.
I pulled my head away from the bubble and looked out over the city. **Do we know where we’re taking him yet?** I asked Morrison.
**Yeah. You see Jackson down there?** He responded as if we were having a normal conversation, but as soon as I had asked the question he had shown me exactly what I was looking for.
Jackson was giving us semaphore signals to tell us where the other team had found the rip. We followed the directions and found the rip down at ground level, in what looked like a giant wound on a 5 story apartment building. Together, Morrison and I guided the protective egg around the now calm dragon towards the rip. When we reached the spot, Marcus and Linda were holding a safety cordon around the building to keep people away and Leaf was just running back toward them from having reported to Jackson and Thomas where we should go.
We rested the protective egg on the ground and then Morrison said, “Let me go in to make sure that no one from here is over there. We don’t want to lose anyone by accident.” He disappeared through the wound in the building that was a rift between two very different worlds, but I could still hear and feel him in my head. He found one very confused old lady sitting next to some dragon eggs in a nest just inside the rift. He spoke to her and convinced her to come back with him. She seemed like she might have dementia. She was sweet, but had no idea what was happening. She didn’t even have a sense that there was something to be afraid of.
He led her through the rip back onto the street and a woman screamed out, “Mom!” The woman wanted to jump over the cordon, but Leaf arrived in time to put a hand on her which made the woman suddenly calm. Morrison brought the old lady to the woman, passed her over the cordon, and then turned back towards me as the two women hugged and Leaf stepped back to let them be.
Meanwhile, I had been talking to the dragon in calm tones, telling it what was going on and sharing the images I was receiving from Morrison of the eggs and the nest in safety, the old lady harmless and as confused as the dragon about being lost in a strange world. I now suspected that this dragon was a she, probably the mother of the eggs in the nest on the other side.
When Morrison returned to my side he said, “Let’s get this dragon home!” and we levitated the egg and pushed it right up to the rip between the worlds. We dropped the protective bubble when it was half way through the rip. The majestic dragon flew back to her nest and nudged each egg with her nose. They were all fine.
Suddenly, I had a different voice in my head, only it wasn’t a voice, just images that communicated meaning. I walked through the rift toward the dragon, and she nudged me and then nudged one of her eggs. Then I saw an image of the purple and golden egg and a baby dragon. She was telling me that she was going to name that baby “purple and golden egg”, or something like that. I leaned in to her and she pressed her neck against me and enfolded one wing over me. Then she lifted her wing again and I knew that she was saying goodbye.
As I walked back through the rip I was crying, and I could see that Morrison was, too. Both of us smiled at each other as we wiped our eyes. I hated the tears rolling down my face, but at least I wasn’t the only one.
A few team members reported from different sources that the one dragon appeared to be the only visitor. The whole team worked together to repair the rift as quickly as possible. In under five minutes it was all closed up and you couldn’t tell that anything had happened to this particular building. There was damage to some other buildings and some injuries sustained by people in the streets. We spread out to fix what we could and heal whoever needed it. Jackson liaised with the city police to let them know the situation. They probably had some report that they would have to write as well. There was still some stuff for other team members to do, but after all the injuries had been seen to, Morrison and I walked back to the house.
“That was amazing, Uriel. You did really good work up there. I wasn’t thrilled that you went in front like that, but you were right. You had the right idea. What made you think to talk to the dragon like that?”
“That’s just how I do. I tell bees to go away from my mom’s porch so she won’t swat them. I warn squirrels to stay away from my dumb dog. I once told a cougar that if it ate me someone would shoot it, and it turned and left me alone.”
“I talk to a lot of animals,” Morrison started, “but I’ve never gotten a dragon to listen to me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she felt my mom energy. No matter how much of a man I may be, I’m still a mom. That’s not true for all trans dads, but for me it is.”
He leaned in to me and gave me a quick side hug, before thinking better of it and pulling back. I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him a side hug back to let him know it was OK.
“We make a good team out there.” He said. I didn’t look up to see his smile, but I could feel it inside of me. It was as warm as a bear hug, and I lost my balance for a second. Morrison caught my elbow as I tripped, “You OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. That was a bit intense, wasn’t it. Is every day like that?”
“No. Not every day. Most of them are much more mundane. But when things get exciting around here, they do get very exciting.”
“They mostly only put the exciting parts in the comic books.” I said.
“Yeah, I figured.”
We arrived at the building that everyone else calls “Morrison’s house”, but is actually a small town inside of an old synagogue. We walked up the stairs. We each opened a door and stepped inside. There was a little crowd in the foyer. Word had already gotten back about what had happened out there and how we got the dragon mother back to its nest and an old lady back to her daughter. There were cheers as we walked in, and people made way for us and then followed us into the sanctuary.
“Is it time for the movie and pizza yet?” I asked out loud.
Morrison looked up and to his left and then said, “Just about. Let me go get myself something to eat and I’ll be right there.”
“Wait, before you go, I have an idea. Actually this has been in my head since I first read about your dietary needs in the comics. What if I fortified the pizza with extra magic. Could you eat it then?”
He looked stunned. Like the thought had hit him hard right between the eyes. “Can we do that? Am I eating disgusting food for nothing?”
I realized that this might be a very dumb idea. If it were possible, surely he would have been doing it already. But, his reaction suggested that he hadn’t even thought of it.
“Well, I don’t know. How would you know if the food was safe for you to eat?” I asked.
“I don’t have to even put it in my mouth. As soon as it’s in my hands I can feel it. Normal human food makes me feel like I’m going to throw up, no matter how good it smells, and interdimensional goulash makes me feel like I must eat it even if it smells utterly disgusting.”
“Well, then. Let’s grab something small and experiment with it. If you can’t eat it, I’ll eat it. If you can, then Win!”
He grabbed my hand and led me running to the cafeteria where the movie night was about to be held. He went up to one of the people working at the counter and said, “Hey, can I have a very tiny sliver of pizza for an experiment?”
The person at the counter looked confused as their eyes dashed from Morrison to me and back, “Um, yeah, sure.” They said as they grabbed the circular pizza cutter and sliced a small piece off of one of the pre-cut slices under the heat lamps. They put it on a plate and handed it to Morrison.
I pictured the magical energy all around me. I pulled it up from the ground through my feet. I pulled in through the top of my head. I pulled it in through my skin. I pulled it into the center of my body and then focused it into my right hand. I imagined the magic getting infused into the food, becoming part of its nutritional value that could be absorbed by a human body. And then I swirled my finger over the pizza sliver and pushed the magic in. A little blue firestorm exploded over the pizza, but then the pizza looked exactly like it had before.
Morrison picked the piece up in his hands and said, “Holy molé! I think you went a little overboard on the magic infusion.” He shoved it into his mouth and chomped happily. He looked like the happiest kid at the carnival. He took one more bite and the tiny piece of pizza was gone. He made fists with both hands and then opened his hands and put them on the sides of my face and then let go of my face made happy fists again then put his hands together like a prayer and said, ‘You are a miracle. I can eat pizza!”
He turned back to the cafeteria worker and said, “May I have four pieces of pizza please? And…” He turned to me, “How much pizza do you want?”
I laughed, “One piece will do. Those things are huge!”
We got our pizza and then went over to where the drinks machine was. Then we found ourselves a seat at a table where we’d have a good view of the movie screen. When we sat down, I magicked up Morrison’s pizza and his drink, but now I knew I didn’t have to try quite so hard. This time there were no fireworks, but when he picked up the pizza he nodded his approval and took a big bite. A moment later Sandy came walking into the cafeteria. She saw us and came over before getting her food.
“Hey! What happened? How are you eating pizza?” She asked in surprise.
Morrison’s mouth was full but he pointed at me. He swallowed his bite and said, “Uriel did it. He fortified the food with magic!”
“What?! That’s awesome!” Sandy gave me a pat on the back and said, “Seems like you're just busy being an all around hero today, Uriel.”
I blushed, “I’m just trying to make myself useful.”
Sandy leaned in and gave Morrison a kiss on the cheek and then said, “Save a couple seats for me and my friends. I’ll be right back, ok?”
Morrison turned his face and gave Sandy a greasy kiss on her cheek. She grabbed one of the napkins out of the dispenser on the table and wiped the grease off her cheek.
“I’m glad you are finally getting to eat pizza again, uncle Morrison.”
When Sandy was gone, Morrison asked me, “So, does this mean you don’t hate me any more?”
“I never said I hated you. You just weren’t on my list of super friendly characters.” I responded.
“OK, well,” he wiped his hands on a napkin, took a sip of his drink, and then held his right hand out to me, “You think we can be friends, then?”
I took his hand and said, “Yeah, I think that’s a fait accompli at this point. Successfully rescuing a momma dragon and a little old lady together in a single day tends to build friendships rather quickly.”
“I’ll take it!”
A few minutes later Sandy came back with two of her friends. She sat on the other side of Morrison from me and her friends sat in the next two spots over from there. Another family arrived and asked if they could have the seats next to me. I gestured toward the spot and said, “Of course!” and continued eating and listening to the conversations around me. Morrison was recounting the story with the dragon, calling me Uri when he referred to me, and I felt a strange but familiar warmth in my heart. I pushed the thought out of my head, knowing that we still had a strong mental linkage and developing a crush on him would not do at all. That way be dragons, I thought to myself, and then laughed inside my own head at the joke.
Morrison looked over my way and his eye caught mine and I knew he’d probably heard my thought even though I was trying to keep it to myself. He was smiling, his eyes twinkling, and still telling his story. I let myself eavesdrop on the other conversations around me for a while until the lights went dim and the movie started.
About half an hour in I realized that I was extremely tired. I didn’t want to nod off and disappear without warning, so I leaned over to Morrison and whispered, “Hey, I’m really beat. I’m gonna head home and get some sleep. I’ll be back tomorrow ok?”
He grabbed my hand and pulled it up so that both our elbows were bent and our hands were clasped between us. With his left hand he reached up and grabbed my shoulder. He projected his thoughts into my head so that he didn’t have to whisper, **You did great today. I really appreciate your help. Get a good rest, and I’ll see you when you get back here.**
**See you.** I responded in our heads as we let go of each other’s hands and I turned to walk out of the cafeteria.
I found a quiet place with no one around and sat down on the floor against the wall. I opened my eyes back at home and looked around. It took a few moments for me to feel fully back in my body. When I did, I got up and went to the bathroom before climbing back into bed and going to sleep.