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I had a very busy day, between classes and household chores.I actually folded the clean laundry and put it away before running the next load. At 10pm I finally had time to sit on my bed and meditate. I wanted to get back to the 19 Crows world and talk to Morrison. Or maybe I just wanted to see him. He’d kind of gotten into my head last night. I mean, obviously he got in my head, but I mean he charmed the heck out of me and turned me stupid and twitterpated. In the comic books Morrison has kinda been known as a “dog”, going after anyone with tits since he and his wife Eve divorced back in the 90s. On the other hand, the 19 Crows book retconned him as seemingly asexual and aromantic. Either way, I showed up in the 19 Crows world as a man, so I had no chance at all with him. Then again, he saw my “assigned female at birth” real body. This could be awkward. It was definitely awkward, but also, I really wanted to go back and be in the Crows’ world, regardless of Morrison’s gorgeous smile.

I hate having crushes. They’re so damned uncomfortable.

My mind was going over all the things that happened yesterday over there while I brushed my teeth and changed into a soft t-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts for bed. Last night’s mixing of reality into my meditation taught me that I should wear at least some clothes while I do this, just in case. 

At last, I pushed my pillows into the perfectly shaped backrest and sat on my bed, pulling the fluffy covers up over my lap and tucking them around my waist. I sat with my back well supported, my knees bent, and the bottoms of my feet touching in front of me. It was almost perfect, but a little breeze was coming past the edges of my window. This year’s weather has been weird. Even so far into June it was still unseasonably cool. I leaned over to the left toward my desk chair and yanked my zipper hoodie off the back of the chair. I put the sweater on, zipped up, and flipped the hood over my head for optimum snuggly comfort. 

I changed the pace of my breathing to get into a meditative mindspace. I wiggled my body back and forth, feeling my spine stretch and straighten. I leaned my head to the left and then the right, stretching my neck out. I pressed my chin to my chest and then pressed the back of my head as far back as I could into the pillows. I pulled my shoulders forward and then pushed them back. I stretched my face and then squished it. Finally, I let myself settle into position and then relaxed my muscles, section by section, from head to toe. I closed my eyes, saw the dirt in front of me and the shovel, and imagined myself digging a hole. Soon I abandoned the shovel and just dug with my hands. The tunnel went deep into the earth, and I lost any sense of the real world behind and above me. I kept digging. After a while I started to get worried. The tunnel wasn’t breaking through to the other side. I wasn’t reaching the other world. I was just digging deeper. At some point I realized that I was digging across instead of down and I stopped for a moment to try to decide what to do. Was I supposed to be digging this way? Or had I gone off course? Is it possible to go off course when you are digging your way into a journey? I wasn’t sure. There was no one around to ask. I checked in with my breathing. It was still deep and steady. I returned my attention to the hole I was standing in and realized that the shovel was next to me once again. I picked up the shovel and kept digging. 

At last, I felt that I was nearing the end of the dirt. I reached the shovel out and pushed it through, and a perfectly round opening appeared on a hillside in the park near Morrison’s house. I walked to the edge of the hole and jumped out onto the ground below.

Morrison and Sandy were sitting across the walking path as if they’d been expecting me. Apparently, they had.

“You’re a mess!” Sandy laughed.

I looked at my hands covered in dirt. She was right. I was a mess. That was strange. I always use this technique to get into journey spaces, but I’m normally clean when I pop out the other side. This is the third time I’ve popped into this dimension, and the second time I’ve arrived caked in the dirt from the tunnel I dug to get here.

I turned around to look at the hillside, and the hole I’d dug was still there. That’s weird, too. Normally the hole disappears after I jump out of it. In every journey I’ve ever done, the hole always disappears once I arrive at my destination.

Morrison was watching me as I looked at my hands and looked up at the hillside, then he said, “You know, you don’t have to dig your way here. You can just transport yourself now.”

“How?!” I didn’t mean it to sound that harsh. My cheeks flushed in embarrassment at the outburst. I was feeling really confused at this point.

“Let me guess, you’ve been digging for ages, right?” Morrison waved one hand in a circle in the air towards the hole in the hillside and it closed up. 

“Yeah.” My eyes went from him to the hillside and back. 

“You transported to this world, right where you expected to be. In the dirt. And you kept digging until you popped out the side of the hill. You are a sorcerer, Uri, not a mole. You can just make a portal and walk through it. Especially if you already know where you are going. That digging stuff is just headology unless you are actually getting help from a ground dwelling animal spirit that’s helping you across. But no spirit is going to waste their time escorting you across when you can do it just fine all by yourself.

“Next time, why don’t you just just come to the foyer at the house? We have a Shaman’s Door on the wall you can use as a reference, just like you used the Shaman’s Door in Memphis.” This was a small lesson to learn, but I realized immediately that it had wider implications. I’ve got a lot to learn here. 

I didn’t come here to learn magic, though. I came to learn how to face the challenges in my world. I came to learn how to build a team and resist fascism. 

“Our connection doesn’t seem to have dissipated as much as I would have expected, Uri. I can feel your frustration. I promise you, you are going to learn the things you need back home.” Morrison put his hands on my shoulders and pulled me directly in front of him so that we were looking eye to eye, “I promise you.”

I looked up at the sky above us, took a deep breath, and then looked back at Morrison. I clenched my teeth and nodded assent. 

“Come on. Let’s get you home and cleaned up.” Sandy chimed in, hooking her arm in my arm and leading me away down the path. 

Sandy and I walked a few paces ahead of Morrison, arm in arm, chatting about everything and nothing. Ten minutes later we arrived at the foot of the stairs in front of Morrison’s house. 

“Hey, uh, you mind emptying the dirt from your shoes out here before we go in?” Morrison asked with his head tilted to one side and an amused smile on his face.

I sat on the steps to remove my shoes. I haven’t had that much dirt in my shoes since I was a kid and would come home from playing in the sandbox at the playground for hours. I hit the shoes against the stairs to get every last bit of dirt out, and then I removed my socks. I beat the socks against the stairs and more dirt fell to the sidewalk. As I stood up barefoot on the bottom stair, Sandy stood on a stair a few steps above me and brushed her hand back and forth across the crown of my head. More dirt flew and we laughed together at the silliness of it. I brushed my hands across my clothing until all the loose stuff was on the stairs and sidewalk around me. 

Morrison was looking a little less amused now as he surveyed the mess, but then he gestured toward the door and we all headed inside.

The building was tardis-like, bigger on the inside, and even having been here before, the sensation of moving from the outside to the inside was still a little unsettling. The shell of the building was an old stone synagogue from when this neighborhood had been filled with immigrant Jews from Brazil and the Ottoman Empire first and then later from Europe, before they all spread out to the suburbs and broke into orthodox and progressive denominations. There were still two chapels that dated back to the earlier uses of the building, and a set of stairs that once went to the balcony of the large sanctuary now led to a floor of bedrooms and living spaces. But as you looked into the area where the sanctuary had once been, you could see through the iron and glass doors that there was so much more to explore. Several city blocks existed inside this impossible space.

“I’ll see you in a little bit,” Morrison said as he approached the doors to the main sanctuary. He opened the door and disappeared inside.

Sandy hooked her arm in mine again, just as she had at the park, and led me up the stairs and down the hallway to a large suite with a bedroom, living area, breakfast nook, and a bathroom. It was an apartment really. An apartment inside an old synagogue that now held a whole city’s worth of activity inside it. 

“Morrison wanted me to let you know that this apartment is set aside for you. Here are the keys. We can get you some food for your kitchenette if you want, but of course you can always come to the main dining hall or one of the smaller public eateries. There’s clothing in the drawers and closet for you.” She leaned down to the shoe rack next to the door and picked up a pair of boots, “I found these and thought of you. I hope you like them!”

I stared at her in shock. It took a moment for me to swim up through my confusion about what she’d just said. 

“I, um, thought that Morrison’s students all lived in the dorms in the school area.” I said at last.

“But… You aren’t Morrison’s student.” She looked at me like I was the one that was saying something completely absurd.

“I came here to learn.”

“Yes, but you aren’t a student. I mean, yeah, lifelong student,” she mimed giant air quotes, “but not a student student.”

“Then, what am I…” I took a deep breath. Everything was confusing me today. “What am I doing here exactly?”

Sandy laughed. “You expect me to know that? I’m an actual student, Uriel. I don’t know anything!” Her face shifted from mirth to worry, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah. I’m just… a little off balance. I don’t quite get what’s going on. I journeyed here to learn from a fictional superhero about how to do superhero stuff in a non-superhero world, and he told me that he wasn’t the right person to talk to and I needed to come hang out with Morrison. And now… I don’t even know what.” I breathed a deep breath. I remembered my body back in the real world for a moment and could feel the snuggly blankets and the fleece hoody. I brought my attention back to the apartment and Sandy.

“Morrison would not have been able to defeat that dragon without your help last week. You –”

“Last week?” I interrupted.

“Yeah. Last week. Why?”

“It was yesterday for me.” 

“Oh. That’s weird. Cool. Anyway, you proved that you are his peer, not a student. Everyone saw it. He definitely saw it. He walked around in a daze for almost the whole time you were gone, just waiting for you to come back. And then you did that thing so he could eat pizza again. Do you know what that means to him? He hadn’t eaten pizza in, I donno, 60 years? More? I don’t even know.

“So, you have some things to learn from him, and maybe from other people here, too. But you also have a lot to teach us, and I for one hope that you’ll be teaching at the school at least sometimes. I had a really great time with you before the dragon incident, and my progress shot way up in class after that.

“Thanks for that, by the way. I really appreciate the time you spent with me. You didn’t have to teach  me stuff. I was supposed to be giving you a tour!” Sandy looked down at her feet for a moment, then she remembered the boots in her hand. She held them up, “So, the boots. Yes? No?”

I grinned the biggest grin, because those were absolutely the coolest boots I’d ever seen. “Yes!” I reached out for them, “Thank you. These are pretty great. Where did you find them?”

“There’s a guy named Jonah who works leather over in Memphis, Tennessee. He supplies gear for the 19, and whoever else he has time for.” 


“He’s an old student of Morrison’s. Every one of his pieces is built with intentions and most have sigils either sewn in or marked in some way. These are pretty cool. They actually come with a user manual, but Jonah told me not to give it to you until you’d worn them for at least a week. You and the leather need to become friends first, he said.” Sandy’s eyes sparkled with the excitement of it all. 

“But, they must of have cost a fortune,” I worried.

“That’s not how things work around here.” She shook her head, “I thought you said you knew all about the 19 Crows from some book you read.”

Oh, yeah. Sharing economy. Gift economy. Barter only when absolutely necessary. Money is for the Outsiders, not for Crows. For a moment my mind went back to 2016 and life at Oceti Sakowin Camp at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. I lived for 6 months in a community I wish the whole world would be like, and then I had to go back home to normal America. That was one of the reasons I’d loved the 19 Crows book so much. That was part of what made me want to come here now. And here I am. Just like Oceti, this place is a pocket paradise surrounded by dystopia and the people here are fighting for the lives of all those people who don’t even realize that they’re in danger.

“Well, I better let you get cleaned up. Morrison will be back up here at about 5.” She pointed at the clock on the wall with the small hand on 4 and the big hand on 6. “I hope you’re still here tomorrow, but if not, I’ll see you next time!”

I stepped over to Sandy to give her a hug. “Thank you, Sandy. I’ll see you later.”

She hugged me back, her head fitting just under my chin as she pressed it against me. I felt tall and masculine, and like this young woman’s eccentric uncle who showed up from world travels to hang out with his favorite niece. I tried not to think of my real body back home, but just thinking of not thinking about it made it come to mind. The overlay of the two experiences simultaneously was strange. And then Sandy stepped back and left the apartment. 

I walked into a beautiful bathroom. Everything looked like it was made of real stuff, not plastic. There was a stall shower and a big bathtub with jets. The sink and counter space were made of gorgeous stone, with a lit mirror backing the whole counter space. The towel racks had fluffy white towels. In the corner next to the door was a laundry basket with three sections each with its own label: Colors. Whites. Special Care. 

I peeled off my dirty clothes and tossed them into the basket marked “Colors” since nothing I was wearing had ever been white, even before the big dig to get here. Then I realized that none of the clothes I had been wearing were actual clothes I owned in the real world. I’d just kind of imagined myself with a set of clothes on, and there they were. “It’s all in my head. Just a journey in my head. But a nice journey, anyway,” I thought.

The shower wasn’t too hard to figure out, and the hot water felt fantastic on my skin. The soap sitting in the shower caddy smelled wonderful. The shampoo was the same brand that I used back home, which made me laugh a little. How much of this comes from my subconscious, how much of it am I creating consciously, and how much is “real” for some definition of real that accounts for meditative journeys to alternate universes based on fictional worlds? I had no idea. 

After turning off the shower, I grabbed a fluffy towel from the rack and dried myself off. I wrapped the towel around my waist and stopped to look at myself in the lit mirror. “That’s me as a guy,” I thought, “I look so much like my brother Daniel, it’s uncanny.” It was uncanny for the ways that I didn’t look like him, too. I stared for a few minutes picking out the differences. My curls aren’t as tight as his were. His hair was a bit redder and mine a bit more brown. He had way more freckles. I ran my hand across my chin. No stubble. Just soft invisible fuzz. I wondered if I could grow a beard if I figured out a way to stay here for a while. 

Something in my brain clicked and reminded me that Morrison was coming up here soon, so I’d better figure out what I was going to wear and get myself dressed. I headed out of the bathroom and into the bedroom to look through the drawers and closet. I found myself some underwear and a white cotton undershirt. The underwear were the soft boxer briefs I like. “How would they have known that? This must be one of the things my subconscious put here for me,” I thought. The sock drawer held a selection of options that ranged from white sports socks to my usual knee high graphics socks with a few other styles I didn’t really recognize. I grabbed a set of rainbow socks and pulled them onto my feet. In the closet I found clothes that belonged to a sorcerer for sure. They looked like someone had raided a cosplayer’s sewing room. It was all very cool, but I felt a little self conscious about what I was going to wear. At one end of the closet hung some more ordinary street clothes. I picked out a pair of jeans and a button up shirt. 

I stepped back and looked at myself in the mirror on the closet door. I’m no fashion plate, but I didn’t look too bad. I definitely looked better than in real life, anyway. Clearly my mental image of myself had never matured past 30.

Just then I heard a knock at the door and looked up at the clock. It was 5 on the dot. I thought about shouting, “Come in!” but that seemed like a bad idea. Morrison deserved something more formal than that. Suddenly I realized that I maybe should have worn something different. I wasn’t sure what he had planned. Maybe we were going to go down to the school or something. Maybe he was going to take me to one of the practice halls. I gathered my thoughts, steadied my hands, and opened the door. 

“Hello!” I tried to sound respectful but casual. Just greeting Morrison at the door to the apartment that he’d assigned to me. 

“Hi, Uri. How’s it going?” Morrison was totally casual. Dressed in jeans and a button up shirt that was just a different color than mine, but otherwise identical. He had a black jacket hanging from one finger of his left hand.

“It’s great. Come in!” I stepped back so he could come inside. I hoped that my eyes had not bugged out of my head too obviously when I saw him. I’d never seen him in regular street clothes before. He was as dashing dressed in jeans as he was in his magician’s garb. 

Morrison did not step inside. Instead he had a request, “I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to feel obligated in any way. This is pretty silly and minor, and if it will drain you or cause any other…” he shook his head and his eyes scanned around like he might find the right words somewhere just over my head, “I don’t know. Whatever reason, you don’t even have to explain.” He stopped and then smiled. “I feel really silly,” he admitted. He took a deep breath and then went for it, “Can you do that thing where you magic up the food so I can eat normal stuff again?”

I grinned, “Of course I can! That’s easy! Any time. Seriously. That is a nothing thing for me to do. It’s just a Zoop!” I whirled my hand in a circle with my index finger pointing down like I did when I had “magicked up his food” last time.

“Great! Wanna go to a really nice little restaurant that I used to love back when I was young? It’s an Italian place that’s been in the same family for 4 generations now, and scuttlebut on the street is that it’s just as good as it ever was.” He looked like a kid asking to go to Disneyland.

I laughed with delight at how excited he was about the idea of going out for Italian food. “Yes! Let’s go! Do they make spaghetti al pesto? I have a real thing for spaghetti al pesto.”

“They make the best spaghetti al pesto you have ever eaten.”

“That’ll be hard. My mom got the recipe from Vince at Vince’s Pizza in San Francisco when I was 6 because he loved that I refused to eat pizza but ate all the pesto he could put in front of me. That’s some pretty good pesto.” 

Morrison laughed at that, “OK, then. You’ll have to tell me how it compares.”

“Let me get my shoes on.” I said it and then stared at the shoe rack. There were my dirty sneakers and my fancy new magic boots.

Morrison poked his head around the doorframe to look, “You should definitely wear those boots. They need to get to know you, and you them, before they are going to be very useful. Just pull your jeans down over them. It’ll look fine, I promise.” And then he winked and lifted his own pant leg to show me that he was also wearing magical boots under his jeans.

I sat on the chair on the side of the shoe rack away from the door, and then turned toward the hooks above the chair where two things hung. One was a hooded cloak. The other was a black leather jacket. This seemed like a leather jacket kind of outing. I grabbed it and stepped out the door.

I was about to just walk down the hallway when Morrison stopped me. “You better lock the door. My living quarters have locks and protections. Every part of this place has different types of protections based on who is allowed in. This hallway is open to a lot of different people, though, and there’s always a risk that not everyone has the same standards or goals when you have so many people in a space like this. It’s best to keep your protections, both practical and magical, in place for your private space.”

I stepped back through the doorway and grabbed my keys off the coffee table in front of the couch in the living room. Then I stepped out, closed the door, and locked it. He’d said, “both practical and magical,” so I did a quick series of gestures for a simple ward on the door and also imagined a protective bubble around the apartment that no one would be able to pass without permission. For a second the door glowed purple because my magic is weirdly over powered in the Crows’ World, but then I pulled a little of the power out of it so that the protection would be there but not visible.

We went down the stairs to the foyer, where we stopped a few times as people wanted to say something to Morrison or ask him something. Finally, we exited the building, and turned left. We passed many little shops and restaurants. We chatted about what we saw in the windows and enjoyed the warm air. On the third block he pulled me over to show me a marking in a tree. GM + MP in a heart.

“Once upon a time, I was a young man, come to New York for medical school. And I met a beautiful girl that I was sure was the love of my life!” He was smiling that amused smile of nostalgia about past foolishness.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We broke up the week after I carved this!” He laughed uproariously. “Oh, heavens, I was such a dumb kid!”

I laughed with him, but I felt the prick of pain in that shared laughter. There was loneliness at the bottom of that mirth. 

“But then you met Eve, and you guys were happy together for decades!” I realized as soon as I’d said it, that was the wrong place to go.

He got somber, pursed his lips, and nodded, “Yep. We had more than 30 good years. And then, she had things to do and I had things to do, and we just,” He paused and looked up towards the stars, “drifted apart.” He pointed at the sky in the direction of her home planet, “She’s right about there now. That’s pretty far apart.”

He kept staring at the sky as if he could see her there, and then he cheered up a bit, “But I really like her new partner. He’s a great guy. And they have grandkids now. Can you believe it? Grandkids! Kind of amazing. I mean, it helps if you are actually the same species, I guess.” He grinned and his grin turned to genuine laughter again. 

“Wait, she wasn’t human?” I was genuinely surprised.

“No! Not at all!”

“But, she looked human.”

“Yeah, looks aren’t everything, especially for a shapeshifter. She was definitely not human.” I wondered if the shapeshifter comment was a dig about being in a body that is so different from the one sitting in the real world or if I was reading too much into it.

“For the record, I am human.” Oh, damn. That sounded desperate. I thought to myself, if he didn’t know that I’m crushing on him before, he knows now. Sheesh.

He tilted his head in the direction that we’d been walking, and without another word we continued on toward the restaurant.

We arrived at a little place with a green and white awning over an outdoor dining area. Morrison walked up to the maitre’d who was standing near the front door and spoke to him. He grabbed two menus and signaled to one of the waiters inside, who took the menus and led us to a table for two in a back corner of the dimly lit restaurant. The waiter lit the votive candle in the small red glass in the center of the table after seating us and handing us each our menus. He stood up and rattled off some specials. Morrison asked about the wine. Then he looked at me.

“Your son is a winemaker, isn’t he? Would you like to pick the wine?”

“My son is the winemaker. I’m just the naive wine enjoyer. You go ahead and pick.” I answered.

He ordered a bottle of white wine, and the waiter left us to decide on what we would eat. 

“This wine will go beautifully with that pesto.”

“You used to do this kind of thing a lot, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah. I had an absurdly privileged life for a while there. I mean, I have an absurdly privileged life now, to be honest, but it's a different kind of privilege with different benefits and drawbacks.”

“I never quite understood how a small town family doctor got to be so wealthy. The comic books make it sound like you had everything, but it was what? The 1940s? The 1950s? I feel like the comics either had to be overblowing your wealth or they were not telling the whole story about your work. You were in the army reserves after World War Two, right? Did you get some flash government contract because of your military connections or something?”

“Oh, heck no! I held patents for three different medical inventions. None of them are under patent any more, of course, but for a while I had a pretty nice stream of income that allowed me to do the family doctoring without worrying about money at all. I would have just kept doing that until retirement if the Korean War hadn’t happened. 

“I had a really good thing going. I took care of people whether they had the money to pay or not. I took one week of vacation every three months. I traveled. I dressed in nice clothes. I had a nice house and a nice car. I had a maid to clean my house and a staff to help run the clinic.” His voice trailed off as he got lost in the nostalgia. I had mental flashes of the images in his head. 

“I came back from Korea a mess.” He continued his story. I knew this part from the comics, but it’s different hearing it directly from him. “I hadn’t been over to Europe during World War Two, because my services were needed stateside. But once I did see war, I couldn’t unsee it. My life completely disintegrated when I got home. Some guys started using morphine because they had a physical injury during the war. I just started using it because I had access and because the mental pain was too much for me. I lost everything I’d ever built and every bit of goodwill I’d ever cultivated in less than five years. 

“And then one day, this guy shows up as I’m sitting on my porch blazed out of my every living mind and just says, ‘Come on. We’ve got things to do.’ I don’t even know why I followed the guy, but I did. He may have brought me back to New York where I’d gone to med school because he wanted to bring my mind back to those hopeful days when I was full of dreams and potential. Or maybe he just brought me here because he’d already found Bet Shalom all boarded up and needing a new owner.

“He told me to buy it, and I did. I was still getting money from my patents, and I had some other investments that I hadn’t completely blown through yet.” Morrison stopped his story for a moment and tilted his head to one side, like he was seeing his old memories in a new light and processing some new piece of information. “Huh! I wonder if there’s some alternate universe where my teacher was actually a scam artist and I just ended up homeless on the streets of New York after spending all my money on obviously foolish things.” He laughed at that a little too hard. “Damn! That would have sucked!” He put his hands together as if praying and brought them in front of his face. His fingertips touched the tip of his nose and his eyes had a look of concern for that theoretical other Morrison. Then he interlaced his fingers and put his hands back down on the table.

“Lucky for me, Akiva was the real deal. He taught me a bunch of stuff, and then he sent me off to learn from other teachers while he held down the fort at the old synagogue. He picked that building for a whole host of reasons, but the fact that it had been a synagogue was definitely one of those reasons.”

“Did you ever find out why he picked a random goy to be his student?” I asked, and then realized how offensive that question was. Dammit I’m so dumb sometimes. But he didn’t seem to take offense. 

“Yes, I did.”

The waiter arrived with a basket of bread and butter and our bottle of wine. He took our orders, and then he was gone and our conversation continued. As we talked I pulled magic energy from the air around us and focused it into my right hand, then I made a little circle over the basket of bread, over Morrison’s glass and over the wine still in the bottle so that Morrison would be able to consume it all without getting sick.

“He picked a random goy because he knew that what was coming ahead needed all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. I’d like to think that it wasn’t so random, though, because I hope that he saw something in me that suggested that I would be able to help build the cooperative community that he envisioned. But, you know, it might have just been that I was the only available morphine-blitzed goy with the money to buy the property and start refurbishing the place.” Morrison smiled as he lifted his glass to me and said, “L’chaim, random yidden!” and then took a sip.

I lifted my glass to him and said, “Slàinte Mhath!”

“So, now, it’s your turn.” He said. “I got the broad strokes of your life when I did your background check, but I didn’t go looking for all the details. I just wanted to make sure you were safe to have around. I wasn’t trying to bare your nakedness, as it were.”

I blushed, remembering last night when he had arrived at the pub to vet me for the Crows. I was bound to a chair in a back room so that I wouldn’t escape a second time, and he scanned my mind to find out why I was really there and whether I was a threat to them. “Yeah… well, I felt pretty naked when you were doing that.”

“I’m sorry about that, but if you hadn’t actually been naked back home, it might have felt a little less, uh, uncomfortable. I didn’t realize until I’d followed your mind back there. I did back up and go back to looking at the stuff inside your mind, not outside it, once I saw the situation.”

“Yes. I know you did. And I know that my story sounded outlandish when I arrived, and the Crows had no reason to believe me without checking the facts. It was just awkward.”

He tilted his head to one side in a nod that said what words really couldn’t right then. 

After a moment of silence that made the distance between us seem to stretch out farther than the width of the table he said, “I kinda hoped that we could start over. I’d like to get to know you not as an interrogator but…” He trailed off again. Once again the silence seemed to make the table get longer and the space between us was suddenly a gulf.

“Wow. I’m really bad at this,” he said looking off to the side. “I’m sorry. I just really like you.” He looked back at me and I was unsure what I was seeing in his face. “We had a very awkward start the day we met, but the rest of the day was pretty great. I even got to eat pizza!”

We both laughed at that, and the gulf shrank back down to a table in the corner of a dimly lit Italian restaurant with a votive candle in the middle, along with a bottle and two half drunk glasses of wine. Now the space seemed intimate. Romantic, even. 

I sat with my elbows on the table, my hands folded together and held in front of my mouth as I thought. I shapeshifted into myself. My original self back home, but maybe a little younger and prettier because I’m vain. 

“No… You don’t have to do that.” Morrison put his hand on my arm. 

I jumped back and returned to the shape I’d chosen when I came to this world. I felt tears in my eyes and heat in my cheeks.

“Oh, god, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you think that you have to change yourself for me. Be you. Be who you choose to be. Change if it’s what really makes you happy, but don’t change to fit what anyone wants to see.”

Now the tears were rolling down my cheeks and I couldn’t hide it and I couldn’t make it stop no matter how hard I willed it. Morrison reached out for my arm again and pulled my hands toward him. He gently separated my interlocked fingers and took my hands in his. 

“I saw the flag in your room, and it seems to me there was some reason you chose this body when you came to this world. I don’t know the details, and it’s none of my business unless you want to share. I like you,” He let go of my left hand and touched his fingers to the middle of my forehead and then the center of my masculine chest, “what’s inside your head and your heart. The packaging isn’t the important part, believe me.”

I picked up my napkin and wiped the tears from my face, then put my hand back on the table where Morrison held it again. I still didn’t believe what he was saying. 

“Um, as I recall, you are canonically a straight boy,” I said with a little too much emphasis on the word straight. 

“Um, as I recall, I am not a comic book character, but a real live human being living here in this reality.”

I pulled both my hands away to rub tears out of my eyes again, and maybe hide my face for a second while I gathered my thoughts and wrestled my discomfort. I put my hands back on the table, where Morrison immediately held them both again.

“May I point out,” He said with a serious tone, “That I’m over 100 years old and I’ve had sex with demons from the flip dimensions. Calling me ‘straight’ seems a little off.”

My tears turned to laughter at that, and I had to ask, “What demons?”

“What do you mean what demons? Did your comic books not cover the 5 years I spent traveling with Nimsol across the third flip dimension Milky Way? Their species doesn’t even have a gender binary. It takes a minimum of four individuals to create a new zygote!”

“Yeah. I know about that. But, you weren’t, like… were you?”

“We were totally ‘like’ all the ‘like’ we could. Do you know how long it takes to get between planets, even in one of those ships? Two consenting adults, with all that time, and no Netflix to distract us.” We both laughed. 

“Oh, man, that must have been – “

“Creative.” he finished my sentence. “It was very creative.” He nodded with a look of smug pride followed by a cheeky grin.

The waiter arrived with our food. He set the round tray with the plates on a folding stand. As soon as I smelled the pesto I realized that I was very hungry. I hadn’t even touched the bread, but now I felt ravenous. The waiter pulled out a giant wooden pepper grinder and offered to season our food. I didn’t need any, Morrison did. Then he picked up a little container with a grater and fresh parmesan cheese from off the tray. I did want some of that over top of my spaghetti al pesto. There’s no such thing as too much parmesan in my book. I smiled at Morrison as the waiter grated the cheese over my dish and then over Morrison’s dish. My heart felt a little wobbly, but good.

When the waiter left I did my little hand wave over each bit of food on the table, including my own plate in case Morrison wanted a taste of anything. He noticed, and reached across the table with his fork to steal a bite off my plate before he tried anything else. My heart felt a little warmer after that most minor exchange of intimacy. We tucked into our food and didn’t say anything at all for a bit, but the silent table stayed table sized, close and cozy. 

“This is so, so good.” Morrison pointed at the food with his fork. “There is literally nothing I can do in the world to equal the improvement in my quality of life that you have given me by letting me eat normal food again, even just occasionally.” 

I watched him eat, saw how he savored every single bite. I wanted to say that it couldn’t be that big a deal, but I knew that it must feel like a very big deal indeed. For 60 years or more everything he ate tasted like rotting meat or wood ash. Most of what he could eat without getting sick still wriggled on his plate even after it was cooked. I don’t even want to think about the texture issues with his prescribed diet. Eating had become a chore that he had to do to maintain life where once it had been one of the pleasures he’d enjoyed. All this from having collected too much raw magic in his cells so that regular human food had become indigestible. It was like having parosmia and life threatening allergies all wrapped up into one miserable package.

“Can I ask you a question about the food stuff?” I asked.

“Sure,” he answered.

“Did Akiva have the same food sensitivities you do?”

“Oh, no. Not at all. Akiva did have food sensitivities, but they were different. He was fine as long as he ate only kosher food. He knew when a heksher was false or given by a corrupt hashgacha. The minute it went in his mouth he’d throw up. Poor guy. There were a few big scandals with food producers here in New York during the years I knew him, and all of them started with him getting sick.

“But my situation is a little different. Akiva only had Jewish magic. That’s a lot, but it’s not everything. There are magics which are forbidden to Jews – stuff I would never teach you, by the way, out of respect to my teacher – but I’m not Jewish so I went and learned whatever I could. Akiva wanted me to. That’s why he sent me out. And every magic comes with a discipline. Sometimes the discipline is just the thing that you need to do in order to cultivate the ability itself. Sometimes the discipline is a side effect of exposure to that magic. The food thing is a bit of both, I guess.

“You have to consume enough magic food to be able to use certain magics, but that changes your body. Once your body changes, any food that doesn’t have a high enough concentration of magic is just poison. Most of the food that has enough magic comes from other dimensions where magic is much more plentiful than here. I could eat everything that Nimsol ate when I was in the flip dimension with them. Unfortunately, my taste and smell are calibrated for normal human food. That makes for a very bad combo.”

I had another question, “So, that thing I do to concentrate magic in ordinary food, you can’t do that yourself?”

“Nope. In fact, after you left here, I tried several times before I hit the library to see if there was anything written about it. Turns out, you are not the first cross-dimensional traveler who has been able to do this for a local who couldn’t. There is a theory in the documents about nested realities with complex relationship ties that map onto the sefirot, and it explains a few of your special powers here. You have a measure of narrative power that a native to this dimension does not have. We are all co-creators of the reality we live in, but some people or entities have a little extra force behind their creation power. The fact that this world is at least partially built from a story that is created as fiction in your world gives you an edge here. 

“I have some ideas about how that relates to your ability to concentrate magical energy differently from a local, but I don’t know the absolute truth of it.”

He had a forkful of food held up just off his plate but stopped before putting it in his mouth to say, “Why are we still talking about me? I wanted to get to know you.” and then he filled his mouth so that he couldn’t talk.

“I don’t know what to tell you about. What do you want to know? I mean, you know why I’m here. You saw what’s going on in my world, or at least the big picture issues. You probably know that I’ve been pretty depressed and miserable since the feds cleared out the Water Protector camps at Standing Rock, that I feel utterly useless and like I’ve already done all the useful stuff I can do in the world and now I’m just sitting around waiting to die. I’m too young to die without people who care about me getting really upset about it, but I feel like everything I’ve attempted to do since 2017 has been a mess.”

He finished his bite and jumped in, “OK, that part. Let’s start there. I know you’ve done a lot since 2017. I was specifically looking to verify your claims of being an activist and humanitarian, so I looked at that stuff. I know that you haven’t traveled as much, but you’ve helped human rights lawyers, you helped track surveillance devices, you published a bunch of stuff about threat modeling and security for activists, you used that same knowledge to help people with mental health struggles manage paranoia, you have used both your magical and your practical skills to help people even while holing up in your bedroom for months. So why do you say you are useless?”

“I can’t raise money to get even extremely important work done. I have lost friends to bizarre circumstances that I still can’t wrap my head around. I have been accused of some horrific stuff that I would never even think of doing. I don’t seem to be able to coordinate groups of people to do anything together any more. I can barely get myself to complete a task if it takes more than a single day to do it. I have lost the ability to concentrate for any period of time to the point that I can only consume comic books and audiobooks any more. Several really important requests have been made of me that I have not been able to do, either because I was too afraid to go do them or because I just kind of fell on my face while attempting to do them.” I stopped suddenly as I remembered one particular person that I had helped with code for two weeks and then accidentally ghosted. I didn’t mean to ghost them, I just fell into a depression hole, and then I didn’t want to reach back out because it felt awkward and complicated and, frankly, suspicious, that I should just disappear like that. I sank into my chair with a feeling of utter self-loathing.

“OK, so what I’m hearing is that you have PTSD and you are struggling.” Morrison wasn’t saying anything that I didn’t know, and he knew that I knew it, which is exactly why he said it that way. 

“The blown up friendships weren’t my PTSD,” I retorted.

“No, but I’ve been watching your mental images while you talk about those, and one of them seems like it was an infiltrator trying to destroy the work you were doing, one was just a garden variety jerk to you, and one was suffering from her own mental illness and the influence of an abusive partner who had some seriously pathological paranoia. None of those are on you.” He assured me.

“I could have handled each of those situations better.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you could have. Maybe some other people could have supported you better. Like Miss Paranoia and her assertion that you had bugged her house. The only thing that you might have done differently is stand up and defend yourself against the accusations. I’m not sure why you didn’t.”

“Because I didn’t want to smear her in the process of defending myself. I had expected someone to reach out to me privately and ask for information, but no one did. Not until over a year later when she did something similar to someone else.” I responded. “You know what really pissed me off about that whole situation when it was all basically over?”

“Tell me,” He said, even though I’m pretty sure that by that time I was projecting my hurt on blast.

“There were two different men over the years that got accused of improper behavior and who we had to remove from the organization that Miss Paranoia and I were both a part of. In both of those cases, leadership in the organization spent time talking to the accused, and they told them directly when they were removed from the organization. In my case, no one spoke to me, not even to tell me that they had removed me from the board of directors! I literally didn’t know that they’d removed me from the board until they asked me to rejoin it a year later!”

“How did you not notice that you were removed from the board of directors? Wasn’t it weird that no one contacted you in all that time?” He was genuinely perplexed.

“No. We’d had a pattern of having a lot of board activity in stochastic bursts followed by months of silence. It wasn’t predictable when another bunch of meetings or conversations would come up, and since the pandemic hit just a couple months after the whole accusation thing, I just figured that everyone was dealing with all the other difficulties of life and letting board work slide. I didn’t have any particular concerns about what I saw happening in the published goings on of the org itself, so I had no reason to reach out to the executive director or the rest of the board about anything.”

“OK, but what’s the funny thing on the edge of your mind, there?” He was reading all the emotional stuff I was sorting through.

I smiled really big when I said, “Miss Paranoia did warn everyone that I was a Very Powerful Witch.” I laughed at that, because I know that I’m not really that powerful back in my reality.

“I don’t see what’s funny about that. It’s true.” Morrison seemed actually offended that I would think I wasn’t.

“No I’m not! I mean, here I am. I can do all sorts of things in a fictional world that’s all in my head. But in the real world, I can’t do shit.”

Morrison’s face turned dark, “This is just fictional to you? This food? This table?” He reached across the table and held my hand, “This hand?”

“Ummm… yes. It is.” I knew that this wasn’t going to make him happy, but I couldn’t just lie, “I want it to be real. I like this place a lot. I wish I could spend all my time here! Bring my family! That would be amazing. But, 19 Crows is a book. Morrison is a long running comic book character that has been around longer than I have been alive. If I allow myself to believe that all of this is really real in the same way as my ordinary life is really real, then I will become actually insane and unable to function at all.”

“No.” His voice went deep and reverberated through my body.“This reality is just as real as the reality that you were born in. I am just as real as anyone else you know. The power to walk between realities is magic and it’s at the core of the medicine work of people not only on this Earth, but on all the other planets that have medicine workers in all the dimensions and ‘verses that exist.

“Do people go insane when they walk between ‘verses and dimensions? Yes, they absolutely do, but only when they don’t know about or ignore the boundaries and the soft spots. They go insane when they deny the infinite fractal nature of reality and when they have no skills to navigate it. 

“You have been given the skills, a very useful mapping technique, knowledge of both the boundaries and the soft spots, repeated proof of the reality of miracles, and still you deny it all? I’m shocked. Seriously, shocked.”

Morrison was intentionally projecting his emotions a little harder so that I could feel exactly what he was feeling. It wasn’t anger. It was almost like the panic that you have when you see a toddler run towards a busy street or when you find out that your teenager cut school to go base jumping off a downtown skyscraper. He was worried about my wellbeing. He was worried that my attempt to not “be crazy” was actually a road to mental breakdown. I don’t know how long we sat there just looking at each other. I could feel what he was projecting throughout my whole body, and I understood its message even before he spoke again.

“You can’t keep trying to fit into whatever secular, atheist, spirit-denying overculture that says that none of this is real. It’s too late now for you to turn off all the magic. If it weren’t, I’d tell you to walk away now for your own safety. But I’ve seen the thread through your life. You were doing medicine work before you knew what that even was, which is why you had to be trained so young. If you didn’t have this you would be insane, not the other way around. People who have the gifts that you have who don’t have your training are called schizophrenic, dissociative, psychotic. You aren’t labeled as any of those things because you know how to work with the so-called hallucinations because someone took the time to start teaching you when you were nine. Nine! Goddammit! You were so unimaginably lucky and you still don’t even know it, do you?”

Two different memories popped into my head next to each other. One was being at Standing Rock and talking to an atheist who had come to protest the pipeline but thought that the idea of a prayer camp was stupid. I had asked her if there were any weird coincidences that she’d experienced since she arrived at camp. She had quite a few strange stories to tell. I told her that was the power of the prayer camp and that if she didn’t want to believe in God, that was fine. She could just call them “Oceti Synchronicities”. That was the first moment I realized how much a communal culture around spiritual practice was important for the understanding of the things that were happening around us. The second memory was from a couple of years later when I was working as a peer counselor for parents of children with mental health challenges and I talked to a mother and father about different ways to understand the experience of their son who heard voices and experienced a very different reality unfolding around him than the rest of us did. I had shared videos and articles about medicine workers from different cultures helping young people like him to work with those voices and develop a healthy relationship with the expanded reality they lived with.

Next, I remembered a moment that happened a few months after returning home from Oceti. My friend Michelle, an indigenous woman who I had met at camp, was staying at my apartment for a bit. I had just lost my patience about something, I don’t even remember what any more, and I was stomping out of the house to go take a walk. She tried to stop me and suggested that I smudge with sage. I snapped something at her and marched off. About an hour later I came back feeling very stupid and embarassed. I knew that she had been absolutely right. I had needed the sage smoke, the moment to recenter, regroup, and cleanse my heart and my mind. Then as if on a string of beads I thought of all the times that moment had come up again, when I had apologized to her, when we had laughed about my error together, when I had been reminded over and over about how I actually keep making that same mistake. I knew that I had made a similar mistake just now.

“You have some amazing gifts, Uriel. You have also had incredible luck to have so many teachers and so many opportunities. Stop trying to throw it all away. Don’t recolonize yourself over and over again.”

“Morrison,” I took a deep breath before continuing, “You are right. I am sorry. And also, I am scared.”


“Because I’ve gone right up to a ledge a few times now where it seemed like I might fall into an abyss and never come out. Because I’ve seen people who can’t deal with ordinary reality at all, who talk to invisible enemies in the street, can’t bathe themselves, have no shelter. Life is hard enough already. I don’t want it to be like that.” 

Morrison took his own deep breath now, pulled his emotions back in and recentered himself. “OK, I saw one of those times when I went into your head last week. That time you made your way into the space outside your own fractal present so that you could see ‘as above, so below’ playing out in multiple dimensions. Tell me about that, let’s explore that experience for a moment.”

I took a moment to center myself and remind myself not to dive into that space right now as I described it, “I meditated on the fractal nature of reality; how everything that exists at human scale exists in some analogous way at the microscopic scale and at a massive scale in which whole galaxies are like cells, and how everything that happens also happens in the worlds of inception, design, formation, and action; and how all of that also repeats in analogous fractals across every dimension – height, length, width, time, and dimensions I don’t know how to name. As I let the images of these fractals play across my vision, I started to experience everything in triplicate. I knew that something was about to happen. Something happened. And then I remembered the thing happening. Everything, every visual stimulus, every sound, every single physical experience and even every thought I had rippled in triplicate for about 14 hours straight. I couldn't make it stop. About four hours in I started to wonder if I’d be stuck like that forever. I tried to imagine life going forward, how I would be able to make a living or interact with people at all, with this strange echoing reality in my head. I didn’t think I could do it.”

“And then what happened?” He was playing lawyer or therapist. Either way, he knew the answer.

“I went to sleep exhausted. When I woke up it was still happening.”

“But it didn’t continue long after you slept, did it? What happened?” He pushed me towards the resolution to the crisis.

“I started doing various techniques to center myself in the present and in the physical world. I forced myself to experience the here and now in a single, unified experience.”

“What was the most useful technique for that in the end?”

“I just imagined everything collapsing into a single timeline and physical reality until that’s all I experienced.” 

“Did you do the same thing just now, before you told me about your experience?”

“Yes. I did.”

“So, you have the tools to keep yourself sane. You have the skill to unify yourself when you become fractured.” He looked me right in the eyes and asked, “Of all the other scary experiences you’ve had, was any as scary as that one or as hard to master?”

“No. That was the hardest of them all.”

He nodded. Then he smiled. He reached across the table again and took my right hand in his, pulled it toward him until my palm was almost in front of his face. “Excuse me while I kiss this totally fictional hand which is completely in my head and doesn’t really exist.” and then he kissed the palm of my hand and held it to the side of his face. 

Once again I felt his emotions wash over me. He was afraid to lose me. He hardly knows me, but he’s afraid of the idea of never seeing me again. And then I couldn't entirely tell the difference between my own feelings of loneliness and admiration for him and hope for some kind of future with love in it, and his feelings of the same for me. They were all mixed up and blended together like watercolors swirled on a sheet of paper.

We were both startled then and turned our heads to the waiter who was standing next to our table, his lips moving but no sound coming out. Then my ears popped and the sounds of the room came flooding back.

Morrison said, “I’m sorry, I missed that. Come  again?”

“Is everything tasting alright? Can I get you anything else?” The waiter repeated.

“Um, yeah. Could I get a glass of water, please?” I said.

“Sparkling or still?”

“Still, thank you.”

“Make that two, please.” Morrison added.

“I’ll be right back, sir,” and then the waiter was off again.

I turned to Morrison and raised my eyebrows, “Did you have a privacy bubble up the whole time?”

“Yeah, we’re not in our safe little sanctuary. Some things it’s best not everyone hear.”

The waiter arrived with our glasses of water and asked, “Will there be anything else?”

Morrison and I looked at each other for a second and then I responded, “No, I think we’re good, thank you.”

Morrison nodded once in agreement and the waiter left the table.

“So, how does the pesto rate?” Morrison asked after the waiter was out of earshot.

“It’s pretty darned good. Vince would approve.”

“So, tell me, why were your parents taking 6 year old you to a pizza place if you didn’t like pizza?”

“When I was 5 my mom’s youngest sister died and my mom got custody of her two young kids for a little over a year. The two of them really liked pizza, so we went to Vince’s Pizza for them, basically. I had to eat three scout bites of pizza, because that was the family rule for when you didn’t like whatever food was being served to the rest of the family.” I explained.

“How’d she die?”

“Uh… she shot herself.”

“Oh. Wow. Sorry.” He looked uncomfortable, like he’d walked into a trap door. 

“My mom and her three siblings were not the happiest of people in the world. The middle sister had died about two years before that from a drug overdose which may or may not have been intentional. My mom’s brother was an alcoholic. My mom is just, well, she’s a special kind of difficult. It’s complicated.”

“Didn’t you live with her after that thing you did in North Dakota?” He asked.

“I lived in the same building where she lives, two floors above her. It was the only place I could get after my brother Daniel died in 2015 and I inherited his dog. I hadn’t lived in the US for a long time and I had no credit, so no one would rent to me even though I had plenty of salary to pay rent.”

“Why wouldn’t they rent to you?”

“I’d been traveling full time doing humanitarian technology projects around the world for nearly 4 years at that point. Before that I lived in Israel for a few years. And, I am utterly incapable of explaining how completely fucked up the housing market is in the United States in general or in the Western states in specific, because it is just fucketty-fuck-fucked.”

“Official statistics say that the homeless population of the US is only 552,830 but I’m pretty sure that’s a gross undercount considering how many people live by couch surfing, how many live in homeless encampments, and how many live in their cars. If you consider that the homeless population in the US during the 1930s is estimated to have been something like 2million, I just feel like something is way off with the modern day count. In the town where I live now, the two rental agencies that rent out almost all the housing require a 700 point credit score to even be considered for a lease agreement. Having no credit score at all means you can’t rent anything.”

Morrison jumped in, “We had a pretty serious homeless crisis here before the Crows started setting up housing communities around the country, but I’ve never heard of a rental company not giving someone a lease because they were new to or newly back in the country. That’s harsh.”

“Yeah,” I said, “One of the things I wanted to learn about when I first came here to talk to Mica was how you guys were able to set up those housing communities. I’ve seen a lot of attempts at communities like what you have, but nothing that’s managed to create a movement like what you guys built. And, even when it comes to just a one off community, there are so many challenges – starting with the question of ‘Where do you get the initial funding to buy property?’ and getting more complicated from there.”

“Well, we had the Bet Shalom building to start from, but that’s not useful to you. Then again, Akiva showed up at my front porch with nothing in the world but the clothes on his back. I’m not even sure how he got there, to be honest. So, there may be some things we can figure out that can help you back home. I know that the idea that money is like magic energy is something that the prosperity preachers of various flavors use to manipulate people, but there is something to the notion. We might be able to find ways that you can nudge the energy where you want it a little better.” 

“Oh, my God, Morrison! You have no idea. I have no money magic at all. None, zippo, zilch. Actually, no, that’s not true. I seem to have negative money magic. Money is repelled from my presence. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing or attempting to do, money goes somewhere else.” I groaned.

Morrison shook his head and said, “I get it, but we can fix that. I’ll put it on the agenda of things to work on, OK?”

The talk of homelessness, housing, and money were actually making me a little nauseous now. It all seemed too big to me, too many problems to solve to reduce people’s suffering. Images of getting ready to sleep in my car, in different cars in different places in different years floated past my vision and through my body. The precarity of couch surfing. The actual majority of my adult life when I did have housing was there in my memory, too, but it felt like those memories sat behind the more vivid ones of when I didn’t.

My attention came back to the table when Morrison said in a cheerful tone, “It’s almost time to order dessert!”

I laughed at him and pulled myself back to center. I am here, now. This is an Italian restaurant. Morrison the freaking sorcerer was sitting across from me. I just ate a wonderful plate of pasta. I took a sip of the wine and it tasted good. I remembered that I was also sitting in a bed all snuggled up in fuzzy blankets and a fleece hoodie. Then I decided to push that away and just let myself be here in this reality. All the way here.

Morrison’s plate was empty and so was mine now. My back was to the wall, so I looked out across the room to find our waiter, make eye contact with him, and flag him down. He gestured that he’d seen me, and I turned my attention back to Morrison. 

“Alright, then. I don’t want to ask about anything that’s going to go to trauma land. Let’s try something different. What do you think is the most important thing about you right now?” Morrison asked.

“Oh, jeez, like right now, right now? Sitting in this restaurant with you, right now? That I have a really foolish crush on the guy that’s sitting across from me at the table.” I answered.

Morrison smiled really big. Just then the waiter arrived and I asked him for the dessert menu. He rattled off the options and Morrison and I decided to share one piece of cake after we were warned that the piece was massive. The waiter left again.

Morrison’s smile had not diminished while ordering dessert and he picked up exactly where we left off, “OK, then. That is very good, indeed, but we’ll come back to that topic later. I want to know what, in this epoch of your life, is the most important thing about you?”

“Oh, that! That’s easy. I am the parent of 3 grown kids and grandparent to 6.”

“Really? That’s the most important thing? Your descendants? Isn’t that a bit, I don’t know, sexist?”

A busboy showed up to clear the table and left as we continued to talk.

“Well, I mean, if you were to write my obituary and say that ‘Alona Pardo, mother of Einat Pardo the famous sword maker, died last week’, I’d be annoyed that you misgendered me in my obituary, but not that I was defined by my kids. I’m more proud of the people they’ve grown into than I am of anything else I can think of. Also, no, I don’t think that women should be defined by the accomplishments of their kids. However, I was thinking that the most important thing about me is probably the thing that provides the backstop for all other priorities in my life. Any decision in my life, if it’s going to cause avoidable harm or even discomfort to one of those 9 people, then I will choose the path that causes the least discomfort to them.”

Morrison thought about that for a moment. He kept his eyes on me, but his head moved back and forth as it seemed he was turning what I had just said over in his mind. At last he responded, “Yeah. That makes sense. So, after that, what’s the next most important thing?”

“That I want to make the world a place with less suffering in general. Wherever the total amount of suffering can be reduced, that’s what I want to be doing.”

“Oh, woah! That’s kinda big.” He raised and lowered his eyebrows.”There’s a lot of suffering and a lot of things that can be done to reduce it. How do you choose where to put your energy?”

“Aaron Swartz said that you should ask yourself, ‘What is the most important thing that I can do right now?’ and I’ve learned to narrow that down by focusing on both defining ‘important’ and being realistic about what I can do.”

“Really? He said that? Cool. He’s a good guy. You know, he lives at Bet Shalom these days. He moved  back down from Boston about a year ago.”

“What? You’re kidding! There’s an Aaron Swartz here? Like hacker and software developer Aaron Swartz? Privacy advocate Aaron Swartz?” My eyes started getting teary and I leaned back in my chair. 

Morrison looked surprised and continued for me, “Fought the whole SOPA nonsense and helped defeat it? Has helped Carl Malamud with gaining access to and publishing laws, policy documents, and court decisions as public resources? Yes, are you saying he’s not in the book?”

“No. Our Aaron Swarz died in 2013.” I bit back the tears, frustrated because I hate that I cry so easily! Stupid emotions driving biological functions. I don’t like it.

“Oh, no! I’m sorry. 2013? He was just a kid. Barely getting started! What happened?” Morrison suddenly realized that this was not going to be good and added, “I do not want to know, do I? Let’s just skip that. Damn. That really sucks.”

I was getting a grip on myself as I said, “It’s super cool that he’s alive here, though.” I picked up my napkin and wiped my eyes quickly. 

The waiter showed up with our cake and two forks. He moved the candle holder to one side and set the plate of cake in the center between us and then placed one fork in front of each of us. Morrison picked up his fork as the waiter left again. As soon as the waiter had his back turned away from us, I did my little magic gather and swirl thing to make the food edible for Morrison.

Morrison looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to pick up my fork.

“You look like you are at the starting line for a competition,” I told him with a smile. 

“Naw, I’m just looking forward to sharing a piece of chocolate cake with you is all,” His eyes twinkled and I thought that my heart was going to melt into a puddle and leave me dead.

We ate the cake in warm silence, occasionally staring at each other with puppy dog eyes. When we were done, Morrison got the bill and paid it, then we headed back towards Morrison’s house, the Bet Shalom building as he called it.

We walked back to the house hand in hand, fingers interlocked. Morrison asked if I needed anything for my apartment. I said that I didn’t. He explained the laundry system to me and said that if I’d like them to deliver my laundry to his residence when I’m not “in town” he could get it to me when I come home. He said it like that, “when you come home,” like this was my primary dimension and the other one was a place I just decided to go one day. A moment later he said something else referencing my original reality and he called that my home, so I’m not sure if he’d even realized he’d called his dimension my home before. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue.

We arrived at the front steps and walked inside the building. Before we headed upstairs, Morrison brought me over to the Shaman’s Door portal in the foyer so that I could see the pattern and location of it. 

“Remember, you don’t have to dig your way through. Just focus on this portal. See the location, see the design of the portal in your mind, and then walk through. You don’t have to bother with all that digging. Please don’t bring any dirt from your journey into the foyer.” His tone said that he was very serious about the dirt, his face said that he was teasing me. “Will you be back tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. I was here yesterday my time. I’m not sure how to line up the timings. The first time I jumped back to this dimension just an hour after I’d left, even though it had been a whole day between for me.”

“Oh! You need to calibrate in time as well as to the place. Do you see that display right over there? It has the day, date, and time.

“Cool,” I said.

“You cannot return to a time before the moment you left this location, but you can go to another location, even on this dimension’s Earth, spend a week there and then return here a second or so after you left. This is however a rapid road to burnout and severe depression. Don’t ask me how I know.”

“OK. I’ll make sure to take appropriate vacation time and sick leave, and I will get as close to 8 hours of sleep a night as I can.” I retorted.

He was clearly pleased with my response. He wrapped his arm over my shoulder affectionately and we started walking upstairs to my apartment. When we got to the door, he waited until I opened the door. I thought for a moment that he wanted to come in, but he just leaned extremely slowly toward my face until I realized that he was nonverbally looking for consent to kiss me. I put one hand up to the back of his head and sunk my fingers into his thick dark hair, and then his slow motion sped up and we were kissing. Right there in the hallway, I was kissing Morrison and he was kissing me back, and whatever part of me still felt foolish for having a crush on him was just washed away in a tsunami of oxytocin. He wrapped his arms around my body firmly and hugged me so tightly. I squeezed back happily. And then he pulled back just enough so that he could look at my face without letting go of the hug.

“You sleep well. So, 9 tomorrow morning in the foyer?” He asked.

“Yeah. I’m coming here at the end of the day in my world, so I may only have a couple of hours in me before I have to go back there to sleep. That OK?”

“Sure. That’ll be perfect. See you then.” He pulled in for another quick kiss, and then he stepped away. 

As I stepped into the doorway I saw people on both sides of the hallway doing a terrible job of pretending not to watch us. My face burned red. Morrison looked down the hall away from the stairs to see the people and cheerfully waved at them. Then he turned toward the stairs and gave a nod of greeting to the folks between him and the stairway. He had a little hop in his step as he walked away from my apartment. I pulled the door shut behind me and locked it before I had to interact with anyone else.

I took off my boots and put them back on the shoe rack. I hung my jacket on the hook. I wandered into the bedroom and peeled off the jeans and shirt. I hung them back up in the closet since I’d only worn them for a couple of hours. I climbed into the nice comfy bed, and pulled the covers up over my shoulders and around my neck as I lay down. I magicked off all the lights in the apartment, since I’d forgotten to flip the switches and I was comfy now. Then I closed my eyes and returned to my spot sitting on my bed in my bedroom in my original dimension. It was 11:30. I’d been gone for an hour and a half. I hoped that I would have enough sleep before class in the morning.

Then I took off the fleece hoody, snuggled down into bed, and went to sleep.