The weirdest part of this story is that I have no idea how it started. In hindsight, I think that I must have been pulled into the Crows’ world from deep sleep. The start is just like a dream, where you find yourself in a place that somehow makes perfect sense even though you have no idea how you got there. I don’t know how or even when I knew that I was in the Crows’ world. I don’t know how I knew it was real and not just an ordinary dream. I should add that that’s a significant point here. Normally, I know when a dream is a cross-dimensional trip instead of just the ordinary working of my sleeping brain. There’s some quality that usually triggers my awareness of the spacetime I’m inhabiting being real instead of just a figment of my imagination. I don’t remember having that moment of realization. I never even realized I was asleep, and I don’t remember waking from a dream. I can’t explain it except to wave my hands and say, “Magic!”
I was with a young boy of about 10 or 11 years old. We were in a city. At the start I had no particular point of reference as to what city it was. We didn’t know each other. We just happened to walk into the same building at the same time. That’s where my memory of all this starts. An office building on a nondescript city block. We walked in the front doors of the building one after the other and headed to the elevators. I had some notion that I was going to visit someone in an office up on the 5th floor, but I don’t have any recollection of who or why.
The boy arrived at the bank of elevators first and pressed the up button. We waited together in silence. There were a few other people in the lobby of the building, but no one else at the elevators. The middle elevator arrived with a ding and the doors slid open. Two people walked out and we walked in.
I pressed the button with the number 5. The boy snuck in under me and hit the number 7. The elevator doors closed and we started to move upward.
That’s when things got really strange. The numbers above the door did not rise in order. We started at L and then we were at 3 then 6 then 9 then back to 1, and then the elevator started to move sideways.
The boy scooted to the back of the elevator and grabbed onto the railing. His face was ashen with terror. My own heart raced as the realization that something was terribly wrong shifted into the realization that things were not going to get better.
The elevator lurched upward again, and then it felt as if we were zooming upward in an express elevator towards the top of a skyscraper. The building we had entered wasn’t that tall. It was maybe 10 or 12 storeys tall, tops. The elevator stopped suddenly, and we were both thrown around inside the tiny room. The boy held tight to the railing, so his legs went above his head, but he landed right back where he started. I wasn’t holding on to anything, though, so I slammed against the ceiling and then back into the floor of the box that held us.
The doors opened and closed too quickly for either of us to get out. In that brief moment we saw a pier that went out over the water, with a bay full of pleasure boats, commuter ferries, and large ships further out. When the doors closed, all the floor numbers above the door lit up together.
The boy and I looked at each other as the elevator began to move again. I could see that he was terrified, and I desperately wanted not to look as scared as I was. I learned from my earlier mistake, though, and grabbed hold of the railing on the wall where I stood. It was a good thing that I did, because just a few moments later the whole carriage turned upside down and the boy and I were dangling from the railings as we held on for dear life.
The elevator traveled sideways like that for some time before it flipped rightside up again. The boy and I found our footing again and caught our breath.
The elevator continued to move from there in a manner that felt more like a subway car than an elevator. It went straight forward for a while, then it turned, banking slightly as a train would at speed, and then we were moving straight forward again. We climbed upward for a while and then it felt as if we were spiraling down around a large hill. The carriage came to a stop, but the doors did not open, and then it moved sideways. We stopped again.
At last, the floor numbers above the elevator doors turned off. I expected the doors to open up, but they did not. Instead the number 10 lit up. We began to descend at a normal elevator pace. The 10 turned off and the number 9 lit up. Then 8. 7. 6. We continued to descend. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
The elevator carriage tipped towards the doors as they opened. We both lost our grip on the railings, and the boy and I were dumped out onto a sidewalk outside. We landed unceremoniously on our butts.
I looked up just in time to see the elevator doors close and the carriage disappear like a mirage.
I tried to orient myself, but I had no clue where we might be. We were on another nondescript city block. There weren’t any recognizable landmarks.
I turned to the boy and said, “Are you OK?”
He nodded, but didn’t say anything right away. He looked around. His face looked as confused as I felt. “Where are we?” he asked.
“I have no idea.”
The boy had a brave face on. I could guess what was going through his mind. Or maybe I was just projecting. The terror of the elevator ride was over. Now we just had to figure out where we were and how to get back to something familiar.
I stood up, and put my hand down to help the boy to his feet. He took my hand and popped up with a hop.
“I’m Barry. What’s your name?” The boy asked.
“Nice to meet you,” the boy said out of habit before adding, “I guess.” I could tell that he didn’t mean it in a rude way. It was just a surreal situation we found ourselves in, and not exactly a nice one. “Which way should we go?”
I didn’t have time to answer. Both of our attention shifted to the woman at one corner of the street walking toward us. She was tall and thin with the palest of skin. Her hair was pure white, pulled up into a bun but with wispy strands curling around her face. She walked in high heeled, knee high black boots. Her slacks were black and pressed so that they had perfect fold lines that ran up the front of the legs. Her blouse was white and crisp with a lacy collar that ended in perfect corner points on each side. She wore a long black coat with a high collar that she had flipped upwards as if to guard her neck from the back and sides. The coat billowed out behind her as she walked. The image was all sharp angles, black and white, order and strength. I knew instinctively that she was not a friend.
I grabbed Barry’s hand protectively and ran away from the woman. We could hear the woman’s footsteps speed up as she ran after us. I was ready to pick the boy up if I had to, but he was fast and kept up with me. We ran to the end of the block, and seeing that the closest car was half a block away, we ran across the street.
I snuck a look back as we arrived at the opposite corner. The woman had stopped running and was now walking with long strides as her arms moved through the air to form the gestures for a spell. Her hands shifted from one shape to another as they moved through the air.
As I turned my attention back to the direction we were running, I could sense the wall of magic power that was coming toward us from the spell that the woman had just cast. I grabbed the boy around the waist, picked him up, and jumped into a doorway. A cold blue wave of energy shot past where we had been just a moment before. I’d saved us from whatever she had thrown our way, but we were not safe. She was still coming.
The boy pushed at the door, but it wouldn’t open. He banged on it with both fists, but no one answered.
I knew somehow that I was in the Crow’s world, so I knew that I could call on the magic I’d been learning and it would have instant, visible impact. I began to make the hand shapes to spell out the words for the intent that I had. Then I used those words to shape a protective egg similar to the one I’d used on the first day I’d worked alongside the Crows to protect New York from an acid-spitting dragon. The shield I’d made back then was strong, but it would not have stood against another magic user in this ‘Verse. This shield had additional wards to stop whatever our mysterious enemy might send our way.
The boy’s eyes grew wide as the bubble formed, dark purple with black, silver, and golden letters revolving in rings around us.
“We’re going to be OK. I’ll make sure of it.” I promised.
“We have to get away from her!”
I took the boy’s hand again, and we walked together out of the shelter of the doorway. The woman was just a few feet away from us. She saw that we were safely inside the shield I had fashioned, and her eyes narrowed. She began to shape another spell, but this time we did not run. The boy and I stood our ground, hand in hand, and waited. She threw her spell but it dissolved as it hit the swirling magic that protected us.
“Abominations!” the woman yelled. Her voice was deep with a smoker’s rasp.
I didn’t want to turn my back to her now, even with the protections. She was no longer walking toward us. She was forming another spell to throw our way. After the first spell dissipated so easily at the edge of my shield, I was confident that my magic would hold as long as I kept sending my own energy into it. That couldn’t last forever, because we were blocked off from the magical energy of the world around us that I would normally pull on to feed a working in progress by the very shield that I needed to fuel. But I felt fairly fresh, charged up as I was by adrenaline.
This new spell hit our shield differently. It wasn’t aimed at us inside the shield. It was a cue ball, meant to push us like a billiard down the street. The egg rolled backwards, and then wobbled sideways toward the street.
I quickly changed the shape of our shield from the egg into a sphere. Then I shouted to Barry, “Run like you are inside a ball!” which we were, actually, and he knew exactly what I meant. We both put our hands up onto the wall of the ball away from the woman and ran, moving our hands on the inside of the sphere to keep our balance as we moved. By some miracle we kept pace with each other so that neither was at risk of falling over.
Behind us we heard the exasperated shout of our pursuer. Then we could hear the sound of her boots echoing against the buildings as she ran after us. I saw the next spell that she threw at us out of the corner of my eye as it bounced against a building across the street to my right and angled toward my side of the sphere. Just before it hit us I shouted, “Curl up!”
Barry dropped to his knees and tucked his head down just as we got hit from the side and our ball changed direction. I wrapped my body around his, crossing my arms in front of him so that we would not bounce separately around the ball and injure each other. After a couple of spins we hit the building next to us, and started to bounce back diagonally towards the street. I didn’t want to find out what would happen if our shield met with the front of a car, so I unfolded myself as if I were coming out of a flip and put my feet back onto the ground and ran. I kept hold of Barry in my arms, so I had to keep my balance and try to steer the bubble with just my feet. He straightened his own body, and when I felt the muscles in his body prepare to land on his feet, I dropped him so that he could run with me. By that time, I’d regained control of our shield and had us running straight down the sidewalk again, but we were almost at the corner again, and now we could see that we had almost arrived at the waterfront we had seen from inside the elevator.
I knew that we couldn’t stay inside this shield much longer. I had to come up with another strategy for our defense.
“I’m gonna drop this shield. Step in front of me as I do, and then stay behind me when I turn around.”
Barry did exactly as I said, as if we’d practiced this move a hundred times.
I dropped the sphere shield and immediately set a simple straight shield wall behind me, between myself and the boy. I didn’t need any hand gestures for a simple shield. Now I had access to the magic energy around me, so I could pull on it to create a more powerful spell to throw at the woman chasing us.
I hadn’t learned any offensive spells, so I had to make one up as I went along. It was hard because the first words that popped into my head were “מת” and “הרס”, “death” and “destruction”, both of which were a bit more lethal than I really wanted to go. Then I thought of something more useful. “בילבול”, “confusion” should slow her down at least. I shaped the words with my hands and pulled them together with the energy of the sea air around me. I pictured rough seas as a metaphor for the mental state that I wanted to inflict on her. And then I threw it.
It’s not that I’m terribly skilled, but in this ‘Verse I have an incredible level of power to throw around. Some people call me a god. Others call me a demon. I’m just a person from a dimension that holds more power than this one, and that gives me an unfair advantage here. As the spell left my hands it expanded out to fill a huge area as it rushed toward the woman. There was no way that she could dodge it, and there was no shield she could set that would withstand the power behind it. As it hit her she stumbled and fell forward.
She put her hands out in front of herself to catch her fall. She let out a blood curdling scream as the radius in her right arm snapped from the force of her body falling toward the cement.
I dropped the shield behind me, figuring that she would be disabled for a few minutes at least. I grabbed Barry’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” We ran together toward the waterfront, turned left, and then ran along the asphalt paving between industrial piers and bougie marina entrances. I wasn’t sure what we were running toward, but I figured that somewhere we would see a face that looked helpful or a place that looked like a sanctuary. There was nothing friendly here. Just regular people working and wealthy people being oblivious to the hardships of anyone around them. After a quarter mile or so, we slowed to a walk and caught our breath.
We didn’t get to rest for very long, though. The angular woman was floating down the waterfront towards us, her hair more disheveled than before, and her coat waving almost straight behind her.
I saw a small speedboat idling in the water next to a ladder a few yards ahead. I grabbed Barry’s hand again and ran towards the boat. As I sent him down the ladder into the boat, my conscience hurt at the idea of stealing someone’s boat, but this was a desperate situation and I didn’t know what else to do. A moment later I was at the wheel of the boat. I’ve never driven a speed boat before or since. I had no idea what I was doing. I figured that it was similar to driving a car, sort of, and I just went with it. There was something like the gear shift on an automatic transmission. I put the boat into what seemed analogous to “drive”, figured out the throttle, spun us around in the water as fast as I could and started to take off into the bay. We didn’t get far, though.
A spell washed over our boat. The waterfront and the city disappeared from view as we were enveloped by the spell. We were lifted up, boat and all, out of the water and thrown. As abruptly as we rose up, we dropped back into water again, only now we were in an elaborate water feature in front of a large skyscraper. The boat wobbled, and we scraped up along the side of the pool around a large fountain. I found the kill switch and turned off the engine before Barry and I scrambled out of the boat.
Men in suits and women in dresses with comb-teased hair stared at us, but no one did or said anything about our sudden appearance. They just looked surprised for a second and then continued on about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
Barry and I stood by the side of the fountain, drenched from the splash of water that came down on us when the boat landed, and laughed. The scary woman was nowhere in sight. We were out of immediate danger, but I still had no idea where we were.
“What do we do now?” Barry asked as he started shivering from the cold.
“Well, first things first. Let’s get dry!” I said as I made a series of gestures between the two of us. When I was done, we still looked a bit unkempt, but at least we weren’t dripping water onto the sidewalk. Even dry, it was way too cold for the clothes we were wearing.
“Let’s get moving. It won’t do to stand around here for too long.” I wanted to make sure that the woman didn’t catch up with us, but I also thought that walking would keep us from getting hypothermia from what seemed to me like a massive change in temperature.
After we’d been walking for a little bit, I asked, “Do you know what city we’re in?”
“Well, we were in New York before we got on the elevator, but this doesn’t look like any part of New York City I know.” Barry said. I had the feeling that despite being a child of the 21st century he was pretty street smart and had done his share of exploring on his own. He’d been going to that first office building on his own, afterall.
“Who were you going to see at the office building?”
“Does he work there?”
“What about your mom?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” He asked, defensiveness rising in his voice.
“Do you know where she might be?” I’m not even sure why I was asking.
“No.” His answer was final.
“Do you have a cell phone on you?” I asked, realizing that I did not.
“Shoot. Do you know your dad’s phone number? Maybe we could call him.”
“What am I going to say to him?” He mimed holding a cell phone to his ear. “Hey, Dad, I got on the elevator to go to your office and now I don’t know what city I’m in. Can you come save me?”
I smiled. The kid was right.
“Don’t you know someone you can call?” He asked.
Suddenly I realized that I hadn’t even once thought about reaching out to Morrison for help. I stopped walking and took a few breaths to calm down and ground myself. Normally, if I need him, I just reach out and he’s there. But no matter how hard I poked at that connection, there was nothing.
“Apparently not.” I answered after a few seconds of trying to call Morrison up in my head.
Just then I noticed a newspaper box on the street corner up ahead. “Hey! I’ll bet that newspaper box will give us a hint as to where we are!”
“Newspaper box?” Barry scrunched his face up.
“Yeah, there.” I said and pointed at the box up ahead.
I walked quickly toward the box, reaching into my pockets in hopes of finding some change. There was none, of course. But if I could just see the front of the paper, that should be enough. As I reached the newspaper vending machine I squatted down to look at the front of the paper in the glass. Above the coin slot was bold lettering, “30¢ WEEKDAYS $1 SUNDAYS.” The newspaper inside was the New York Times, and the date on it was March 3, 1983.
“Shit!” I exclaimed as I stood up. I covered my face with my hand and tried to think what to do next. Then I realized that I might have been in 1983 this whole time. “Hey, Barry, what day is it today?”
“I mean, what’s the date?”
He scowled at me but answered, “August 16, 2022.”
“Yeahhh… nope.” I said as I pointed toward the glass pane and the newspaper in it.
Barry came closer and took a look. His eyes went wide. He stood up and said, “Holy shit! Now what?”
I felt like I should maybe tell him not to swear, but I had just said the same word a moment before for the same reason. Hypocrisy is a great way to lose a kid’s trust, and right now we were the only people either of us could trust.
I realized that we had at least some good news. We were in New York. It shouldn’t be hard to portal over to the Shaman’s Door in the foyer at the Beth Shalom Building. Then I remembered that there was no Shaman’s Door there until the 2010’s. I don’t really need Shaman’s Doors, though. Just a landmark. And I’m pretty sure that the front of the Beth Shalom Building hasn’t changed much in 39 years, or probably even in the last 60 years.
“OK, kiddo. I’m gonna try something. I’m gonna make a portal to a place I know here where we should be able to get some help. If it works…” My voice trailed off, as my confidence wavered.
I was full of adrenaline, and making point to point portals inside a single dimension was not something I was very good at without the aid of a very clear mental image of some focal point to set my portal in front of. Shaman’s Doors are basically someone else’s magic to help non-magic users get from point to point, but they serve as unique focal points for me. The design of each door is unique, like an address. I’m not sure exactly how unique the front of the Beth Shalom Building is, considering that a lot of synagogues have similar architecture. I decided to add some details that I knew would be more or less the same over time. The distance to the restaurant where Morrison and I had our first date. The park nearby. There were lots of holes in my knowledge of the area as it would be in 1983, but I hoped that I had enough to get us to the right place.
I made the hand gesture for a dalet, as Morrison had taught me, for stronger, more secure portals than what I used to do. I drew a circle in the air and then mentally opened the aperture until it was big enough for Barry and I to walk through side by side. I could see the steps of the familiar building in front of me, and I knew I’d succeeded. I looked at Barry and nodded. He nodded back, and then we both walked through. The portal closed behind us as soon as we stepped through.
We walked up the stairs together, hand in hand. One of the double doors at the front of the building opened as we reached the top step. The short elderly man in a tweed jacket with a kippah that covered his bald head was not someone I’d met before, but I knew exactly who he was.
“Rabbi Akiva!” I smiled and breathed with relief that he was here. I didn’t know that he was still alive in ‘83. I didn’t actually know how long he lived. My hand went to my heart as I felt overwhelmed with emotion seeing him there. I tried to fight back against my stupid tear ducts, but I could already feel my eyes filling up with water.
He smiled back at me, but squinted his eyes a bit as he searched me for something familiar, “Do we know each other?”
I wiped at my eyes with my sleeve and said, “No. I came here for the first time many years from now. I never had the chance to meet you, but I’m so glad to meet you now. I’m a friend of Morrison's. Or…well, I will be a friend of his.”
Akiva’s face brightened and he waved us inside, “Come in! Come in! Tell me what’s brought you here now!”
We entered the foyer but it didn’t look much like it would in 39 years. It had the musty smell of old books, though, and that made me feel right at home. Akiva led us through the doors of the main sanctuary and to the right, past lines of tables and chairs set up for study, some with books sitting in neat stacks at the ends or in front of seats. There was a door with familiar sigils on it that Akiva opened. He stepped aside and gestured us toward the living room just inside.
The general setup of this room was very similar to Morrison’s living room in 2022, but it was much more cluttered with books and papers. There was no table that did not have at least a few books, notebooks, and pens on it. Even the coffee table between two couches which faced each other had books and notebooks on it. A teenage boy was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs with his nose in a book.
“Shaun, I’m sorry to disturb your studies, but could you please go get Shaina and ask her to bring us some tea and cookies, and then find another spot for your reading?” Akiva winked at the end of his request, his way of letting young Shaun know that this really wasn’t anything personal.
Akiva shuffled over to the chair that stood at the short edge of the coffee table between the couches and gestured toward a couch, “Please, please, have a seat!”
Barry and I sat together on one of the couches.
“You know my name, what should I call the two of you?” Rabbi Akiva asked with a mischievous smile.
“I’m Uriel,” I said pointing at myself and then I leaned my head to one side, looking at Barry to let him tell Akiva his name.
Barry looked at me as though he’d expected me to speak for him, and when I did not, he turned to Akiva and said, “You can call me Barry.”
“Nu? So, tell me about what brings you here today?” Akiva leaned forward in his comfy chair to hear our tale.
Barry and I looked at each other, both at a loss for words, then I decided to give a stab at it.
“Well, we’ve just been through a very odd adventure. A misadventure really, and we were sent back in time by an adversary that I have never seen before in my life.”
Rabbi Akiva shifted his attention to Barry. He must have noticed something in Barry’s body language that I had not caught. “You know who it was, though, don’t you?”
Barry looked at the ground and nodded, “Uh-huh.”
I turned to look at Barry, surprised. My first reaction was to want to ask him why he didn’t tell me that before, but I took a deep breath and let the wise elder get the vital information instead.
“Who was it?” Rabbi Akiva asked with the most gentle of voices.
“Do you know why she sent you back in time?”
Barry shook his head then said, “I don’t think that’s what she meant to do. Uriel put a spell on her before that, and I think it messed her up.”
Akiva looked back to me, “You put a spell on his grandmother?”
I had my hand in a fist, with the curvature of my thumb and forefinger against my mouth, covering the many expressions I was switching through as I reprocessed the events of the last hour with this new information. I flattened my hand and pressed against my chin, rubbing my nonexistent beard downward. I took a deep breath and then began to speak.
“Shall I start from the beginning where I came into the story?”
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea.” Rabbi Akiva agreed.
So I told him about the building and the elevator ride, the magical battle on the street, and finally arrived at the point where I threw the spell of confusion.
Akiva clapped his hands at that. “That’s wonderful! Wonderful, creative thinking! I’m so proud of you!”
Rabbi Akiva’s approval made me feel as proud of myself as I might have felt as a small child hearing my parents cheer me on for some exciting milestone in development. I was both small and giant at the same time. And then that feeling passed as my adult sense of discomfort with praise rolled back to the fore.
“I just didn’t know what else to do.” I explained, and then clenched my teeth against the awkwardness of the moment.
Rabbi Akiva leaned forward and put his hand on my forearm and looked directly into my eyes, “You did exactly what needed to be done in that moment. You protected the boy and yourself. You did the right thing.”
The tension left all my muscles at once. My jaw unclenched. My next breath was deep and cleansing. At last I began to feel myself reconnecting with the ground beneath me, the chair I was sitting in, the air on my skin. And then I noticed that I was really thirsty.
Rabbi Akiva was still looking into my eyes, and he must have seen the shift. He leaned forward and got up out of his seat. “Just a minute. I’ll be right back,” he said as he shuffled off in the direction that Shaun had gone when he went to look for Shaina.
From the hallway we heard Akiva’s voice saying, “Oh ho! There you are, Shaina. I’ll take this from you. Could you please run and get our guests a pitcher of water as well. Thank you… Thank you, dear. What would I do without you here?”
Rabbi Akiva shuffled back into the living room with a tray in his hands. Barry jumped up to take the tray from him. The rabbi let the boy take the tray and returned to his seat. Barry brought the tray over to the coffee table and found a spot to put it without disturbing any of the books or papers there.
As Barry sat down, I poured three cups of tea and put one in front of each of us.
“Thank you.” Akiva said as he picked up his tea.
A moment later Shaina walked in with a pitcher and three plastic Tupperware cups that looked just like the ones we had in my mom’s house when I was a kid. I smiled at the nostalgia of it.
“Thank you, Shaina,” I said as she poured water into one cup and handed it to me before filling the other two cups and putting them in front of Barry and the rabbi. I drank the cup down in a single large gulp. Shaina must have known that would happen because she was ready to refill my cup as soon as I was finished. “Oy! Thank you again!” I laughed.
“Nito far vos!” she responded with a warm smile.
I don’t speak Yiddish, but the sentiment was clear.
Shaina left the pitcher on the coffee table and then headed back to whatever she’d been doing before we arrived.
“I’m still not used to magic making me thirsty. That’s so weird to me.” I shook my head with a smile.
“Are you Morrison’s student?” Akiva asked.
“If you ask him he would say that I am not. But I would say that I am.”
“Why is that?” Akiva tilted his head to one side curiously.
“Well, for one thing, he says that we are teaching each other. And for another, he would never date someone he considers a student.” I said as my cheeks blushed. (Why? Why does my body betray me like that?)
“What?!” Akiva clapped his hands and laughed, “That is as wonderful to hear as it is impossible to believe!”
“Yeah, I know, there are several layers of impossibility there, right?” I leaned in as if sharing a conspiracy with Akiva and then leaned back to laugh. Then I got serious again and said, “I’ll be honest, knowing how much he will change in the ‘90s and why he is the person that I know in 2022 is one of the reasons that I was nervous about coming here, but I don’t know what else to do. I need help.”
“And luckily I am here so we can avoid any serious time paradoxes while we figure out how to deal with the problem at hand.” Rabbi Akiva said as he lifted his tea cup as if toasting to our good health.
I nodded in agreement, picked up my tea and toasted back before taking a sip.
The rabbi returned his attention to the boy. “So, Barry, why was your grandmother attacking you and Uriel here?”
Barry pursed his lips, then chewed on his bottom lip while thinking about his answer.
The rabbi nodded as if he knew why this might be hard. “It’s OK. You are safe here. I have no place to judge you. I’m guessing that the person who came all the way back to 1983 with you has your back, too. What has her so upset?”
Just then, the door from the sanctuary to the living room opened up and Morrison walked in. He walked up behind the couch opposite where Barry and I were sitting and looked at each of us. I noticed immediately that he was trying to scan our minds, so I put up a shield to keep him from seeing anything that he shouldn’t. He stopped and stared at me for a moment. We had a minor battle of wills as he tried to pry into my mind by different methods and I blocked each one. Akiva watched this minor drama play out for a few minutes before he interjected.
“You aren’t going to find anything there, Stephen. He’s got good reasons to keep you out. Let it be.”
Morrison’s face registered the shock of Akiva’s chastening. He looked to the rabbi and asked, “What are this demon and little Miss Beryl doing here?”
Barry dropped his head into his hands and he shook his head. “Don’t call me that!”
Akiva now had a hint of what the fight with the grandmother was about, especially given that she had called us “abominations” while she was attacking us.
“Barry, are you a transexual?” Akiva asked, using the term that was considered polite at the time.
“Trans gender,” Barry corrected, accentuating the pause between the words and putting extra emphasis on the word “gender”.
“I’m sorry. Trans gender,” He corrected himself before saying, “I’m an old man from Ukraine and don’t know the right words in English sometimes.” The rabbi looked over at me with a question on his face.
I nodded, “I am trans, too.”
Barry looked up at me in surprise.
Morrison rolled his eyes dramatically and then looked at his teacher with raised eyebrows as if asking why he was entertaining us in his living room at all.
Morrison’s eye roll hit my funny bone for some reason. I just found it hilarious, like a teenager rolling their eyes at the adults for something that they will absolutely feel the opposite about in a few years.
Morrison looked at me coldly and snapped, “What?”
I tried to breathe, but I was laughing too hard now. It took me a moment to compose myself again. Meanwhile Akiva had joined my laughter, which made it even harder to stop. I put one hand up and, through my laughter, said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Someday you will get the joke. I promise. When you get it,” I paused, not knowing quite what to say that wouldn’t give anything away.
Akiva finished the thought for me, “When you get the joke, you will kick yourself, my friend. Several times, in fact.” The rabbi and I exchanged knowing looks, which just annoyed Morrison even more.
Morrison pulled his head back and looked exasperatedly at the ceiling then shifted his posture again to make himself look large and in charge of the situation even though he was not. “Fine. I’ll understand later. Do you need me for anything?”
Akiva said, “We might need your help in a bit, but if Uriel and I can handle it on our own, we won’t bother you. He’s quite competent. He’s had more than one excellent teacher, from what I can tell.”
Akiva and I smiled together at the hidden compliment that Morrison would totally miss.
“I’ll be in my room, then,” Morrison said before leaving the room in the direction that Shaun and Shaina had gone.
I realized then that Morrison did not live in the apartment that I knew as his at this time. I wondered when he’d moved into the apartment I knew.
When Morrison was out of the room, Akiva stood up and walked around the room setting fresh wards. He didn’t have to say it for me to guess that he was specifically blocking Morrison’s likely attempts to eavesdrop on our conversation. As he sat back down, Akiva said, “The man is brilliant, but he has no concept of boundaries unless they are explicit and, more importantly, include solid consequences. He can be tremendously kind, but he can also be incredibly hard headed”
“I’ll be honest. I probably didn’t help things. I was braced for dealing with the brash and self-important version of Morrison, so I put up my own shields as soon as he walked in. That might have made him even more eager to find out what I was hiding.”
“No, you did right. It would be very bad for him to see the future that you already know. He knows this intellectually, but some part of him is too insecure to accept that emotionally. I don’t know what will happen when I am not around to put the breaks on his ego when he goes overboard.”
Akiva interrupted me, “No. You can’t tell me, either. It’s not good to know too much about the future. We always try to make it better, and that rarely works out the way we intend it to.”
I smiled, nodded and finished, “We’re going to be very happy together, and I trust him with my life, even when the right thing is hard for him.”
Akiva smiled at that. “That is enough to know. And I’m glad to know it before I’m gone.”
I thought for a moment about how strange that conversation must hit Akiva now, knowing that my relationship with Morrison suggests an end to the relationship with Eve. That relationship has many more happy years ahead, so it feels almost like cheating to talk about what will come after. Then again, I know that Morrison and Eve were never monogamous. So, maybe Akiva imagines a future where Eve and I know each other and are friends, too. Does it matter? From his perspective, 2022 is nothing but vague possibilities that he knows he probably won’t see.
Just then it hit me. Why doesn’t Akiva have the life prolonging magic that Morrison has? He’s younger right now than Morrison is in 2022, but Akiva looks old and walks like someone with sore muscles and brittle bones.
“Akiva, may I ask you a personal question?”
“You can certainly ask. I’ll decide whether to answer. Fair?” He winked.
“Absolutely. Why don’t you have the life prolonging magic that Morrison has? Is it forbidden?”
“No! No, dear. Not at all. It’s just that I was born grumpy. The idea of living for a few hundred years makes me want to bang my head against a wall. It sounds like a terrible time to me. Why would anyone want to live that long? How many wars will you see? How many famines? How many failures will you have to live through? No. I don’t want that at all. I’ll take my one life, however long Hashem decides, and when the Angel comes for me I’ll offer him tea before we head off on our way.”
Somehow, this view struck me as quite a gentle and kind way to think of both life and death. I reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “You know, you are loved far more than you realize, and when you are gone, you will be missed very, very much.”
The rabbi took my hand in both of his and said, “Thank you.” Then he shifted back to his mischievous demeanor and said with a little smile, “I’ll see if I can arrange an occasional haunting just so that I won’t be missed too much.” He let go of my hand, sat back in his chair and said, “Alright, enough with the interruptions. What do we need to do next?” Akiva’s eyes were focused on Barry.
“I was trying to find my father. I know he works in that building where everything went weird with the elevator. I visited him once before. I needed to ask him to let me live with him. He doesn’t understand what it’s like with my grandmother. She’s a witch!” He paused realizing what he’d just said, looked from me to Akiva and then said, “I don’t mean, like, because she does magic. I mean she’s really mean.”
Akiva and I just smiled and nodded, knowing what the kid meant.
I leaned my head down and asked, “Does she hurt you?”
Barry kind of squirmed in his chair, “She doesn’t hit me or anything like that. She just locks me in my room for days at a time. She doesn’t let me talk to my friends. I’m not allowed on the Internet, because she says that’s why I get bad ideas. She won’t let me call my dad because he lets me be myself and she says that being trans is a lie and he shouldn’t encourage me.”
“Where is your mother?” Akiva asked.
“She died when I was seven. My grandmother used to help my dad out with babysitting and stuff, but about a year ago, she took me away and wouldn’t let me go back to my father’s house.”
“Because you are trans?” I asked.
It sounded to me like the grandmother had abducted Barry. I needed to be sure, though. “Did your grandmother go to court to get custody of you?”
Barry looked up at me, confused. “Court?”
“So, sometimes adults might have a disagreement about who should raise a child, so they go to family court. Usually there will be some meetings with a psychologist or a social worker. Each of the adults who want to take care of the kid will meet with that person, and the kid will meet with them, too. Then, those professionals will give a recommendation based on what they learned in those meetings, and a judge will make a final decision on who should take care of the kid and whether the other adults get to have visitation or not,” I explained.
“I thought that only happened if your parents got divorced.”
“Not only. I have two cousins whose mother died when they were very little. My mother and their father fought each other in court for custody. At first my mother had custody of the two kids, but after about a year their father got to keep them and raise them.”
“No, there was nothing like that.” Barry shook his head.
I looked up at Akiva and said, “It sounds like the correct path here is to reunite Barry with his father and help them both get to safety so that his grandmother can’t abduct him again.”
“But, I am gonna need Morrison’s help for that. Not now, but there, in the future. If we show up in 2022 New York City and I don’t have backup, I don’t think I can win in a straight fight with her.”
Akiva stroked his chin and said, “I’m not so sure. You did pretty well with no information and no warning. You’d do even better if you had time to prepare. But, there’s no reason to make this a fair fight. She needs to be stopped. I have an idea.”
Barry perked up, “Yeah?”
“I can write a letter for Morrison with instructions to open it on the day before you will return in the future. We should have you two return two or three days after you left. That way nothing that has already happened will be changed, but he will have time to prepare a defense for you when you come back. Perhaps he can even go to your father’s office and bring him here to the Beth Shalom Building to meet you when you arrive back in your own time. Yes. That would be safest. This place has many wards and shields. She won’t be able to break in or even know you are here, and then he can transport you to a safe place together where your grandmother can’t reach you.”
“I have another idea,” I chimed in. “What if you give Morrison more than one letter. The first one will be for a week or so before we disappear. It will tell him to go find Barry’s father, and instruct him to get a restraining order against the grandmother, that way there will be both a state response to protect Barry and the full force of the Crows to protect him.”
“The Crows?” Akiva asked before thinking better of it and waving his hand, “Nevermind. Don’t tell me. But, no. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Your heart is in the right place, but I don’t trust the state. Cops are not your friends. Avoid contact with the authorities at all cost.”
I’m sure that the rabbi’s experiences in Ukraine before he moved to the US had an impact on his view of state authorities.That gave me new insight into the anarchy of the Crows. He really was the father of the whole thing, even if he never lived to see it. I sat back and smiled to myself. “OK. No restraining order. You just tell Morrison that we’re going to arrive on August 18, 2022. That’ll be a Thursday. Then we can use the Shaman’s Doors to get them both to a safe house without the grandmother ever knowing a thing. One day should be enough to find another location with sufficient magical protections to keep them safe. There is a whole network of safe places around the globe.”
Akiva's face lit up with the biggest smile, “I probably shouldn’t know that, either, but it makes me very glad.”
“Well, there’s some stuff it certainly doesn’t hurt to know. You’re allowed to enjoy a little of your own success. You are an excellent teacher, rabbi.” I sat there for a moment looking at this man who was like a father to me before I even met him. I loved him even more now that I got to know him in person. He really was as great a man as all his students say he was.
We sat in silence for a moment, each of us in our own thoughts. Then Akiva spoke up again, “Well, the two of you must be absolutely exhausted, and Barry is going to have quite the day when he gets back to his own time. There’s no need to rush anything. You are going to lose almost two full days in the future. Why don’t you take those days here to get some peace and quiet. Maybe you can go see some sights. Tell me, Barry, have you ever been to the top of the World Trade Center?”
Barry’s eyes went wide as he shook his head “no”. He was smart enough not to tell Akiva why he had not. I bit my own lip and wondered if I could handle going up there without breaking down in tears myself.
“We have some apartments for students and visitors. I’ll have Shaun set you up in a two bedroom apartment for the next couple of days. We’ll find you some clothes to wear until you leave, and we’ll ask Shaina to wash the clothes you are in now so that you can wear them back to your own time. Both of you should do everything you can to avoid Dr. Morrison and his wife Eve in the meantime. I will let them both know that it is for their own safety that they do not interact with you. Eve is pretty good at managing Stephen, but as you have seen, she can’t be everywhere with him.”
Akiva pointed at me and said, “You! You be good, too!”
“Don’t you worry, rabbi. I have nothing but respect for Eve.”
“Alright. Just making sure.” He waggled his finger at me and laughed.
Akiva got up and wandered down the hallway calling Shaun. A moment later Shaun and Akiva were back in the doorway to the hall from the living room.
“Shaun will get you settled in, and if you need anything, he’s just a phone call away. He’ll show you how to call him on the internal phone lines.” Akiva gestured vaguely and then sat himself back into his chair. He picked up a book from the table and said, “I’ll see you soon,” before immersing himself in his studies.
Shaun took us back out to the foyer and up the same stairway that goes to my apartment in 2022. We passed that apartment plus two more doors before Shaun opened a door and showed us into our home for the next two days. Before he left, Shaun asked us about our clothes sizes.
I took a long hot soak in the bathtub while Barry watched some sitcoms on the TV in the small living room between our two bedrooms. When I was done, I wrapped myself in the fluffy terry cloth bathrobe that was on a hook in the bathroom. As I walked out of the bathroom, Shaina was knocking on our door. She had two bags with clothing.
“It’s nothing special. Just thrift store finds, but they will hold you over for a few days and you won’t look out of place anywhere you might want to go,” she explained.
She clearly had a gift for thrifting, because everything she gave us was second hand but barely used and perfectly fashionable. I thought of my sister in law back home who could spend an hour in a thrift shop and come out looking like a fashion plate. I have no idea how they do it.
Barry was very excited about the styles in his bag. He said that they were just like “Stranger Things”, and I had to laugh that my childhood was this child’s vintage cool.
Later that evening, Shaun came up to get us for dinner. We ate with Akiva and most of the students who were in the building at the time. Morrison and Eve were not there, and I wondered if it was their habit to eat separately or if they had been temporarily kicked out of their usual dinner plans because of us. I hoped that we weren’t causing too much disturbance in their preferred routines.
After dinner, Barry went with Akiva so that they could put all the necessary details into the letter to future Morrison so that he could find Barry’s father and convince him to trust that we were really helping him and his son.
Over the next day and a half, Barry stayed busy with Shaun. They went up to the top of the World Trade Center building. They went to see The Pirates of Penzance in a theater. They ate a wide assortment of junk food.
I mostly stayed in our temporary apartment. Akiva sent some books, a notebook, and some pens up to me with Shaun when he came to get Barry on that first morning. I went to shacharit, mincha and ma’ariv services in the small chapel on the main level on the other side of the main sanctuary. I figured that Morrison wouldn’t be there, since he’s not Jewish. The space was mixed gender, and women were counted in the minyan. On the second morning it was a woman who served as reader at shacharit. It was nice to davven with this group. Both mornings, I joined the talmud class after shacharit. They were working through Ketubot, and together we had some wonderful debates and shared some hilarious reactions that reminded me of my world’s Miriam Anzovin.
When it was time for Barry and I to return to our own time, everyone from the morning Talmud study showed up to say goodbye. Shaun and Barry had a fun time saying goodbye knowing that they were about to say hello again on the other side. Akiva was there, of course, and that was the hardest goodbye of all for me. It was decided that Barry and I should transit through a portal in the living room of Akiva’s apartment because it had more protections than the foyer where I was accustomed to entering the building. I wasn’t sure if the apartment even existed in a state that would allow that, but Akiva said that Shaun would make sure that it would be. I knew future Shaun pretty well, but only at this moment did I realize that he had known all along who I was even when Morrison didn’t.
I pulled Shaun aside for a moment and put my arms on his shoulders, “Thank you, Shaun, for everything you have done and everything you will do. Morrison is extremely lucky to have you as a friend, and I am eternally grateful for all the little and big things you do.” I pulled him in and gave him a big bear hug.
Then I gave Akiva one last hug. I didn’t have anything special to say that I hadn’t already said or that could be said because, you know, spoilers.
“Make the portal already, Uri!” Akiva chided.
I felt a wash of insecurity. I was about to make a portal through time in front of all these people. I really hoped that I didn’t mess it up. A breath to center, focus, shape the landmarks of time in my head, and then I drew the portal and expanded it. We could see the other side of the same living room on the other side of the portal, with Jackson, Morrison, Barry’s father, and Shaun standing on the other side.
Barry ran straight through the portal into his father’s arms.
I turned back one last time to wave goodbye. Teenage Shaun gave me a little shove, and I passed through the portal into Morrison’s arms. He held me tight as the portal closed up behind me.
Once I was fully in the 2022 living room I saw the giant Shaman’s Door on the wall facing the sanctuary. It was slightly different from the one that was in the foyer. There were spray cans on the floor and cardboard templates leaning up against the sheet-covered couches. There was also a can of latex interior paint along with paint pans, and several rollers.
When Barry’s dad had finally released his son from their first hug in over a year, Barry went straight over to Shaun. The two exchanged some friendly banter that I didn’t hear, but they were both visibly pleased with themselves for completing their 39 year goodbye-hello.
Barry’s father grabbed my right hand in both of his and shook it. “I’m Jack. You must be Uriel. Thank you.” He choked up a bit, “I don’t know how you rescued Barry, but thank you.”
I put my left arm around Barry’s shoulder and said, “He was already rescuing himself when I arrived. I just helped a little. You’ve got a good kid there. I’m gonna miss him.”
Barry’s father had just two suitcases and two backpacks. He helped his son shrug into one of the backpacks and then handed him the handle of one of the two suitcases. Then he put his own backpack on and grabbed the handle of his own suitcase.
Jackson had already explained to Jack how the Shaman’s Doors work, but they stood next to him to coach him as he opened the portal for the first time. The view of a room in a house in Portland, Oregon opened up where the Shaman’s Door had been. There was a welcoming committee waiting on the other side. Jackson let Jack and Barry walk through first. Then they said, “I’ll be right back” before escorting the two of them to their new home.
While the rest of us stayed in the room waiting for Jackson’s return, we shared our respective stories about what had happened over the last couple of days. Morrison pulled me in close while we all talked, and it felt good to be with him again.
“By the way, do you know what the first words in Akiva’s letter to me said?” Morrison asked me.
“You are about to kick yourself. Several times.”
We both laughed and then we laughed even harder about the long wait for that punchline. Morrison nodded, “Yup! He was right. Sorry I was dick, hun.” He kissed me on the top of the head.
“You’re fine. I knew that you wasn’t this you. You’ve done more than enough t’shuva since then.”
It was about an hour before Jackson returned through the Shaman’s Door. As soon as they had come through it, Shaun poured the interior paint into the pans, we all picked up rollers and covered the wall with solid white.
I still don’t know how the whole thing really started, who or what sent me to be in that elevator with Barry when he needed me. Was it God? Was it another magic user who knew that I was the best person to help? If everything is inside of God, is there really a difference?