I realized about half way through class that I wasn’t going to be able to wait until bedtime to go see Morrison if I wanted him to come to Shabbat dinner that evening. This class would be over at 2:30 in the afternoon. That gave me four and a half hours until my family would gather to light candles and have dinner. If I arrived at Morrison’s House at 7am I could stay until 11am and still have time to introduce Morrison and maybe help out a little before dinner. It was hard to focus on class after that, especially since this class was also sidetracked by the news of the day.
At 2:15 I made an excuse in the text chat and popped out of the videoconference early. That gave me time to go to the bathroom before settling in on my bed and doing the journey to the Crows’ world.
I arrived in the foyer of the Beth Shalom Building at 7am on the dot. Jackson was standing in the corner farthest away from both the physical front doors to the building and the Shaman’s Door where they could see anyone who was coming in or going. They had a relaxed but watchful posture, feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped lightly in front of themself. As I walked toward them they raised their eyebrows and shifted position. By the time I was right in front of Jackson, their right hand was extended to shake mine.
“Good morning! That shirt is amazing.” They had a genuine smile on their face, and I wondered if I’d unknowingly passed the line between stranger and friendly acquaintance.
I stood up a little straighter and tugged down on my t-shirt, “Yeah, it’s a sweary kind of day with a big need for tikkun olam.”
“I need to get one of those so we can be twins.”
“I don’t even know if there’s a NerdyKeppie in this world. I mean, if there is, they’re probably Crows. Or at least Crow allies. They’re cool like Crows, anyway.”
“Well I’ll just have to do some search-foo to see if I can find them,” they said, and then they changed the subject. “You’re here early today. Got big plans?”
“Waffles and fruit.”
Jackson’s smile turned into a laugh. “Fantastic..”
“I also wanted to ask you something. Morrison said that you have a lot of experience in rural and small town political organizing. I could really use some advice, or even just stories about some of your experiences. There’s some creeping Fascism happening back home, and I really have no idea what to do.”
“Well, my first advice would be to get the heck out of there if you still can, but I understand that’s not necessarily something you can do right now.”
“Yeah, and also, if I just get the heck out I’m gonna be leaving a lot of people who are more vulnerable than I am behind. I’d like to help as much as I can before I have to get myself to safety. Maybe with effective organizing we can avoid the need to get out entirely, who knows?”
“Understood. Just don’t let optimism slow you down too much, eh?”
I was stuck for words. I kinda snuffled and nervously half-laughed before finally saying, “Alright.”
“Fridays are pretty busy for me. Are you gonna be around at all this weekend?”
“I expect to be back on Sunday.”
“Great. Can we meet up around 3pm?”
“That works fine for me. Where should we meet?”
“Come by my house. Walk three blocks toward the back of the building and turn right. I’m in the second house on the right. You can meet my housemates, too. Everyone in my house has conflict experience. Some are literal war veterans, but everyone has plenty of nonviolent conflict experience, which I think is what you are looking for.”
“Yes, definitely. Nonviolent. I’m not trying to bring on a civil war. I’m hoping we can avoid one!”
“Good move. No one ever wins a civil war. There’s just different degrees of losing.” Jackson stared straight at me for a moment, as if waiting for me to say the next thing, but I had nothing else to say. We stood like that until it was awkward, but I didn’t even have any small talk to get out of the now prolonged silence. At last, I was saved by a distraction.
A young man, probably in his late teens, with dark curly hair came through the Shaman’s Door and then walked directly up to us. He spoke with a Middle Eastern accent, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt. Are you Jackson?”
I stepped aside, and Jackson turned their attention to the young man. “Yes. That’s me.”
“I have a letter from my father Dr. Ibrahim Musleh that I need to deliver directly to Dr. Morrison. My father said that I should request your assistance.”
Just then Morrison and Sandy walked through the sanctuary doors into the foyer. As soon as Morrison saw the young man his voice boomed joyously, “Hussam!” The young man turned toward the voice and was almost instantly wrapped in Morrison’s arms. Morrison pulled back from the bear hug, putting his hands on the man’s shoulders and gave him a kiss on each cheek. “Look at you! Who told you that you were allowed to grow up? I must protest!”
The two men laughed together and Hussam responded, “It wouldn’t surprise you so much if you came to visit more often.”
“I know! I know! I haven’t even been out of New York…” He paused and looked at me, “Well, except for one recent short trip, anyway. I haven’t been anywhere in about three years. But, you! I’m sure that you were just 10 the last time I saw you.”
“I was 14, and that was four years ago already! But, now my father is asking you to come for a very serious occasion.”
“Are you getting married?” Morrison’s eyes were wide with surprise and anticipation.
“No! No! And please don’t even suggest such a thing in front of my mother. She would marry me off before I even finish university. Don’t even think it! No. My father is inviting you to my initiation into the Studies.”
“Have you completed the first volume of Abu Daoud?”
“I have. My father is making me recite the entire book from memory during the week before my initiation, as if we were still in the 12th century.” Hussam rolled his eyes.
“You will be glad that you have the material so well encoded in your mind when you move on to the deeper Studies. Your father is truly a Master teacher. He knows what is at stake, so take his guidance seriously.”
Hussam nodded his head once in a gesture that looked almost like a small bow, and then he held out the letter in his hand and said quietly, “My father would also like to speak to you about some serious matters. If you are not able to come today, he hopes that you will be able to respond to this letter by trusted courier.”
Morrison took the letter into his hands and looked at it. The front was addressed by hand in ink:
Dr. Stephen G. Morrison
Beit Shalom Building
New York CIty
There was no street address. It didn’t need one, but for that matter it didn’t need anything but a name since it was hand delivered by someone who came through a Shaman’s Door.
Morrison turned the envelope over in his hands. The return address was in Arabic on the back of the envelope above a wax seal:
Dr. Ibrahim Musleh
Center for Higher Studies
Silwan, Al Quds
I was pleased with myself for having read all that, even at a distance, but really the handwriting was large and clear so it wasn’t terribly difficult to make out.
Morrison slid his finger under the envelope’s flap just above the seal, but Hussam put his hand on Morrison’s to stop him. “Not here.” He shook his head. “Read it when you are alone, please.”
Morrison looked the young man in the eyes and it was as if some secret communication had passed between them. It wasn’t telepathy. It was some other shared knowledge that passed between them in that glance. Morrison nodded and then slipped the envelope into a hidden pocket behind his cloak.
“One more thing,” Hussam said, the smile returned to his face, “My mother has heard that you have a new demon friend that allows you to eat regular food once more. She hopes that you will bring him and a healthy appetite when you come for your next visit.”
I felt my face turn bright red, as Sandy and Jackson both turned to look at me. Morrison only smiled and reached out towards me, beckoning me closer. As I stepped towards him, he put his hand on my arm and gently pulled me in, finally wrapping his arm over my shoulder as I stood in front of him.
“This is Uriel. You can tell your mother that I will drag him kicking and screaming if I must, because her cooking is world famous.”
I sheepishly put my hand out to shake Hussam’s hand. Now it was his turn to blush with embarrassment, but he reached out to take my hand all the same. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect.” He sort of stuttered as if he was going to explain himself, but couldn’t quite get the words out.
“Some people call anyone from another dimension or plane of existence a demon.” Morrison explained. “I think Uriel is more of a sheyd, though.” I turned my head up toward Morrison’s face and squinted at him in theatrical fake offense. He looked pleased with his little joke.
Then I turned back to Hussam. “It’s nice to meet you. Please send my regards to your parents. I look forward to meeting such beloved friends of Morrison.”
Morrison gave me a little squeeze after I said that.
“I will.” Hussam replied. “And, I’d better be getting back. My father will wonder if I’ve moved in here to avoid my chores back home.”
“Oh, don’t worry, if you want to move in here, we have plenty of chores for you here!” Morrison said. Then, more seriously, “Tell your father that I will read his letter very soon, and will respond personally as quickly as I can.”
“Thank you.” Hussam shook Jackson’s hand, Sandy’s hand, then my hand, and finally Morrison’s hand before turning to walk back to the Shaman’s Door.
When Hussam had left the room, Morrison poked Sandy in the ribs, “He’s still got a crush on you.”
“He didn’t even say hello to me. He acted like I wasn’t even here!”
“Because he’s too tongue tied to talk to you!”
“Uncle Morrison! He’s too young for me!”
“Four years isn’t that big a gap once you are both in your twenties, but that’s not even the point! The point is that you are amazing and Hussam has been smitten with you since he was a toddler and that is just adorable.”
“Oh. My. God. You are too much. Let’s get breakfast already.”
Morrison looked at me and shrugged. The three of us said goodbye to Jackson and headed into the sanctuary and then towards the university cafeteria.
Sandy hooked her arm in mine and stole me away from Morrison. We walked a few paces ahead of him and she asked, “So, are you an apple cinnamon kinda guy? A berry medley kinda guy? Or are you a peach cobbler guy?”
“Are those my options?”
“Yes. Oh! Or bananas and pecans?”
“How will I choose?”
“Well, there are three of us and four flavors of waffle. I suggest we each pick one and share. So, which one do you NOT like?”
“I like all of them.”
“That’s the same problem uncle Morrison has. Maybe we should make him get two flavors and we can each have a waffle and a third.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan to me. Can I ask you a question, though?”
“How did someone in Jerusalem know about me being here?”
Sandy looked at me like I’d just grown a second head. “Don't they have social media where you come from?”
I stared at my feet as we walked and contemplated the weight of what she just said. “Um, are people talking about me on social media?”
“You are dating one of the most famous sorcerers in the world. Of course people are talking about you on social media.”
“Oh, dear. I guess I’m going to have to rethink how I move around this world, huh?”
“Look, people are gonna gossip, but at least here in Morrison’s House no one is gonna be paparazzi-ing you. But photojournalists got several good shots of you and uncle Morrison capturing the dragon that were printed in newspapers, published on Websites, and shared all over. And then the night you guys went out to dinner? Someone got photos of you two walking there, sitting at the restaurant, and walking back. Apparently your visit has been very good for business at that little restaurant, so from their point of view it’s all very good.”
“Am I in any danger because people think I’m a demon?”
“What? No. Well…” She paused to think about that for a moment, “You aren’t in danger from anyone that you wouldn’t already be in danger from for being gay or being Jewish. Some people are just bigots.”
“Gotcha.” I was very quiet for the rest of the walk to the cafeteria as I thought about what it meant to be adjacent to the kind of fame that Morrison has in this world. I wasn’t sure how much of a celebrity he might be considered here, or how he is perceived by the general public. I only know that he’s trusted and respected among Crows and among the sorts of people that I think of as comic book superheroes. I noticed that Sandy didn’t call him a hero. She said he was a famous sorcerer. Are there other famous sorcerers? What are they famous for, exactly? The weight of my ignorance about how the stories I’ve loved reading are perceived from inside the world where they occur pressed down on me, and I felt a bit lost.
Morrison must have noticed that I was having a hard time with it all because as we reached the door to the cafeteria he stepped up behind me, wrapped his right arm across my body so that his hand gripped the front of my left shoulder, and he leaned in to whisper in my ear, “You are doing fine. You are safe and sound. You are among friends, my dear.” And then he kissed my cheek and let go so that he could push the door open in front of me.
We all walked into the cafeteria, grabbed trays and lined up to get our waffles. Then we stopped at the coffee stand to get three coffees. From there we headed in amongst the tables to find a place to sit together. Some of the tables were long rectangular things with five seats on each side and one at each end. Some were smaller square tables for four people. A few were round and could probably squeeze 6 or 7 people in without difficulty. We landed in one of the square tables.
As we sat down, someone walked up to us and asked if they could use the fourth chair at our table. We said yes, of course, and they took it off to one of the round tables to join their friends.
As soon as we were all seated, I was about to magic up the food, but Morrison stopped me. “It’s probably best if we let Sandy put everything she’s going to eat onto her own plate first.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I didn’t think of that.” I looked over at Sandy sheepishly.
“If you turn me into someone who can only eat magic food, I’m afraid I’m not going to be letting you return home to your own verse. You’ll just be stuck here forever.” She spoke in a most casual way, cheerfully threatening me with permanent imprisonment to serve as her food fixer-upper. I stuck my tongue out at her. She stuck her tongue out at me. Morrison shook his head like he didn’t know where the two children at his table came from.
She cut up the waffles and made sure that each of three plates had one piece of each of the four flavors of waffle and topping. The last plate was left empty after she scooped every last drop of its gooey fruit topping onto the other three plates. While she did that, I magicked up Morrison’s coffee so that he could drink it right away. When she was done, I added concentrated magic into Morrison’s food, as well.
For the next few minutes no one talked as we all dug into the food. It was delicious and much too rich. I would not be able to finish my whole plate. As I slowed down, I tried to start a conversation.
“So, Sandy, what have you been up to the last few days?”
“You know, the usual. School. Homework. Gym. Research. Sleep.”
“Sounds like an exciting life!” I teased.
“Actually, it really is! I’ve been working in the lab on trying to understand how the constituent chemicals work together with the inherent energies of specific plants to allow their medicinal uses. And, by medicinal here I mean both in the medical sense of the word and in the sense of magic. Most researchers are only concerned with finding one or two so-called active ingredients in a medicinal plant, and then they wonder why the drugs that are made based on that have side effects that the plant medicine does not. It’s been believed by indigenous communities for a long time that the plant medicine not only requires the actual plant parts but also a relationship with the plant in order to work properly. Science is catching up with the idea that actual plant parts include additional chemicals that assist the so-called active ingredients, but there’s no one else looking into how the relationship piece of the puzzle works. That’s really what I’m after.”
“Oh! Wow! That does sound interesting. What are you learning so far?”
“Well, in an earlier experiment we did, we had two groups of people that received Saint Joan’s Wort for depression. Each group got the same dosages of the plant in the same preparations. One of the groups had Saint Joan’s Wort that was picked from a field that was just grown in the usual Western agricultural manner. The other group received medicine from plants that were grown in a field where we specifically told the plants what the medicine was needed for, and where we asked the plants exactly when we were allowed to harvest them, which plants we were allowed to harvest, and how much we were allowed to harvest. The group that got the medicine from the field where the plants had a relationship with the people growing them reported significantly better results in the use of Saint Joan’s Wort against moderate to severe depression.
“Some people criticized that study, though, because other research has shown that Saint Joan’s Wort only works for mild to moderate depression. Our study ignored that outright and based our prescribing methods on pre-scientific herbal pharmacopeia, books like Culpeper's Complete Herbal from the 17th Century.”
“Oh! I know Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal! I used to have a copy of it. Might still have a copy in storage, actually.” I was excited that our two ‘Verses had this book in common, but Sandy did not seem all that impressed.
“Cool. So, after that, we tried the same study set up, but this time we used Saint Joan’s Wort for burn creams. The thing about these burn creams is that the ingredients for the base cream are often used by themselves for after-burn care. We expected that the two groups would have improvements in their condition that was at least somewhat better than what other research has shown for the base cream. What we found instead was that the cream made with oil from the plants that had no real relationship with people had almost no additional improvement over the base cream. The improvement was barely enough to even consider statistically relevant. On the other hand, the cream made with the oil from plants that did have a relationship with humans and which had been asked specifically to provide medicine for burn victims was 5x more effective than the base cream alone.”
That surprised me. “Seriously?”
She nodded as she stuffed another forkful of waffle into her mouth.
“That’s amazing, actually. How was that study received?”
“It’s been… mixed. There are a lot of people who are just really, really invested in believing that humans and plants can’t possibly communicate and that even if we could, the plants aren’t able to adjust their chemical components to meet whatever requirements we are asking of them.
“It’s not like we are asking Saint Joan’s Wort to make medicine for whooping cough or something. That’s not her thing. Saint Joan’s Wort has her specific role, and she knows what it is. She’s a master maker of her specific types of medicine. But, like I said, there are a lot of people who just can’t accept that, even when the data shows it.
“So, there’s another team working on reproducing our results from the burn cream study. Meanwhile, I’m currently analyzing samples from the harvest of the plants we used for the burn cream and samples of the two creams we made to see if there are significant differences between them.”
“What do you think?” She gave me a look that told me that her hypotheses were being confirmed so far.
“That is very cool. Wow, I wonder if anyone is doing research like this back in my ‘Verse?”
“If there isn’t, there absolutely should be. The problem, though, is finding funding for it. I’m lucky because I’m at the Crow’s University. There aren’t a lot of institutions that would give me the freedom to do this research in the first place. My research advisor used to teach at Berkeley, but they wouldn’t let him do this sort of stuff. They consider it thaumaturgy, and they’ve had a ban on researching thaumaturgy since 1973.”
“That’s funny. The UC Berkeley in my world has also had a ban on studying thaumaturgy since 1970. I did my undergrad work in the department that had the one and only research project on thaumaturgy at Cal, and they made a very deliberate point about telling us that we were allowed to study anything we wanted, as long as it wasn’t magic.”
“Really? Woah. So our ‘Verses have a lot in common!”
“Yeah, it’s kinda weird to find the ways we are the same and the ways we’re different. Sometimes it’s very in your face and other times it’s way more subtle.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of those differences for myself tonight,” Morrison said.
Sandy looked surprised, “Yeah? Are you going there with Uri?”
“Yes. I’m going to try, anyway. He says that he’s not able to come over here physically, so it’s a bit of a mystery as to whether I’ll be able to cross over with him with the portal he uses. But, there was one time that a little girl from here ran through his portal all the way into his room back home. He picked her up immediately and brought her back through. We don’t actually know what would have happened if the portal had closed and she’d stayed over there.”
“Wait,” Sandy looked from Morrison to me and then back to Morrison, “Is this safe?”
Morrison kind of squinted and shrugged. “I can’t say for sure, but I think so. What do you think the worst thing that could happen would be?”
“Uh, uncle Morrison, really? You could go over there and just disappear in a poof of dust. I don’t know!”
Morrison laughed, “No. I don’t think so. I talked to Miri about it already a few days ago, before we’d even planned this. She said that she’d do a little research for me. There are at least three documented cases of people coming from a dimension where they could not physically come through, but where a person from here could cross over to their world. Yesterday she told me that she has a few questions for Uri, and she’s double checking some details in books she hasn’t read in a while. But, I’ll just be gone for a little over one day. No big deal. I’ll be home Saturday night.”
“You’d better be.” She wagged her fork at him, then she turned to me. “You better bring my uncle back here safe and sound, or else I’m going to disown you.”
“I didn’t know you owned me in the first place.”
“I’ve adopted you fair and square. There will be no further questions.”
I looked at Morrison for guidance. He just smiled and shrugged. “You heard the lady. Bring me back safe and sound, or else.”
“Alright then. I will!”
Morrison and Sandy kept eating as if that conversation hadn’t just happened or as if it was completely normal and ordinary.
“I always planned to,” I added after a few seconds.
By this point I was full and couldn’t put another bite in my mouth. I magicked up the rest of the food on my plate and pushed it over in front of Morrison who was just finishing up his own waffles. He looked up, gave me a wink, and traded his empty plate for mine, then he continued his breakfast.
In between his last few bites, Morrison said, “I’m going to have to go back to my office and read the letter I got from Dr. Musleh. I will find out what he needs, and I will pop over there to answer his request one way or another this morning. If I can get over there by 9 or 9:30 this morning, that will be 4-4:30 in the afternoon Jerusalem time. I want to answer him before we go, because there is a chance that we could have time variations on our return. It’s unlikely, but Miri says that it is possible.
“Sandy, if I do not return by Saturday night, I don’t want you to think the worst. Between the first and second time Uri came to this ‘Verse he experienced one day but we experienced only a little over an hour. Between the second and the third visit, he experienced one day and we experienced a whole week. Since then, he’s been able to use the clock in the foyer as a landmark in time to help him arrive when he intends to, but I wasn’t traveling with him. This is a new variable, and that means that there is some uncertainty. Jackson and Shaun know what to do if I don’t show up when expected.” Morrison was all business, but then he added a gentle, “Don’t panic, OK? I am coming home.”
Sandy looked serious and concerned. She took a few deep breaths and then said, “OK, uncle Morrison. Just be careful, please.”
Morrison leaned over and put his hand on her head, pulled her in and kissed her on the top of the head.
Sandy finished her plate and took one last swig of her coffee, “I need to get going. You two be careful, OK.”
Morrison stood up at the same time she did, and they hugged.
“I love you, Uncle Morrison.”
“I love you, too, bug.”
Then Sandy stared down at me expectantly. I didn’t get the hint, so she grabbed my arm and pulled me up to my feet.
“I’m kinda fond of you, too, Uncle Uri. Don’t be a dumbass and get lost in the multiverse, mkay?” She said as she hugged me.
I hugged her back and said, “I will keep my dumbassery to a minimum. I promise.”
She left and Morrison and I sat back down to finish our coffees.
“She’s a pretty great kid, and her research sounds really impressive,” I said.
“Yeah. She’s all grown up, but she’ll always be my kid.” He smiled.
“I can’t wait for you to meet my family. But, there’s something I want to talk to you about before we go.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” Morrison looked concerned.
“I’m worried about Covid. How can we make sure that you don’t bring it back here if you are going over there physically?”
“Oh! That!” Morrison relaxed. “I have perfect healing. I could be in a ward full of patients with an infectious disease and I will not get sick.”
“OK, you might not get sick, but that doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t pick up any virii. What if you come back asymptomatic, but shedding virus? We need to take some kind of precautions to make sure that there’s no chance of that happening.”
Morrison stopped at that, looked up at the ceiling as if considering what I’d just said and finally answered, “What stops most diseases from crossing between dimensions is that the subtle differences at the macroscopic level are considerably more apparent at the microscopic level. I feel fairly confident that I will not return with any virus, but you are right that I can’t be absolutely 100% certain. The Black Death existed at about the same time in thousands of known ‘Verses, and there is some suspicion that it was getting taken back and forth between ‘Verses by European mages in the same way that merchants were spreading the disease within a single ‘Verse.” He held one finger in front of his nose as he thought further. “How about this: When we return, I will wear a mask indoors around people until we are able to be certain that I have not brought any virus back with me. Is the virus spread by touch as well? Should I be wearing gloves?”
“As long as you wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds right before and maybe also right after we transit back here and then any time you eat or blow your nose or whatever, you should be fine. The virus breaks down with soap. The biggest concerns are mucus, saliva and breath, I think. And if you are interested, you can read up on it when we are over there. There are a lot of publicly available research papers you can skim through to get the basic gist of the contamination risks, and a ton of news articles if you prefer the pre-digested information.”
“OK, let’s see if I can bring some of that information back here. When we get back, I will go to the lab and have them check me for any unknown viruses, just in case. Our hospital is attached to the university, so we have all the equipment we need and should be able to rule out possible contamination within two or three days at most.”
“That makes me feel better. No one in my household has gotten Covid, and I would feel horrible if just now it turned out that someone was infected and then we brought that back here to your world.”
“You are quite right. That would be very bad.” He smiled and reached for my hand. “Have I mentioned today that I love you?”
I smiled. “That depends on what you’re counting as ‘today’.”
“Ah, well then. No need, I suppose.” He grinned.
“I have a bit of time before I need to go to Dr. Yazdi’s office,” I said. '' Any idea what I should do in the meantime?”
“Why don’t you head to the gym? Go meet the folks over there and discuss what sorts of training you want to do.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“Come on. I’ll walk you over and introduce you. It’s on my way back to the office.”
We put the plates and coffee cups on our trays and took them over to the area where the dirty dishes go. Morrison grabbed an extra cup of coffee with milk and sugar in a tall mug with a sippy-top lid and held it out for me to add magic.
“I can drink black coffee without the added magic, but it’s nice to have the milk and sugar, too.” He looked down into the cup and then took a sip before putting the lid on.
Morrison walked me to the gym and introduced me to a few people who work there, and then he headed off to take care of his own business.