Thought is neurochemical. It takes time to process. I’d already invested completely in the belief that the ritual was bunk. Those neural pathways were well worn by now, to the point that I almost couldn’t comprehend my situation.
Could it be a prank? I didn’t see how that was possible. It was instantaneous. How could a person be moved into a different room, or the layout and contents of a room change too quickly for them to notice how it was done?
But the alternative was unacceptable. I kept coming back to the notion that it was an incredibly well done prank, only to continually reject it because of incompatible facts.
Finally, after overcoming the prolonged bitter opposition to it in my psyche, I resigned myself to believing what appeared most likely given what was in front of me. That I had actually somehow transported myself by doing a silly little dance atop a charcoal drawing surrounded by candles from Bed, Bath and Beyond. It truly hurt to think about.
The first thing I did, despite the hour, was to try calling Leslie. Only to find that my cell wasn’t seeing any towers. Did they not have cell service here? Where was “here” to begin with, I wondered. I searched the garishly purple and orange painted apartment for a computer.
The monitor was in portrait orientation and there was some upward facing laser dealie that tracked my hand instead of a mouse, but it worked conventionally otherwise. Typing in the URLs of the usual search engines didn’t come back with anything. Finally I typed “search engine” in the bar.
The results were all brands I’d never heard of. “Tristo”. “Brisky”. “Hoptu”. What the fuck? I picked Tristo. That’s when it really sunk in that more was amiss than my apartment decor. The few sentences on the page were in bizarre stilted english with a bunch of words I’d never seen before.
“Grimble text unto search frix with des plob separating each bristum to search fro multiple bristi.” The what now? What? When I did perform a search, most of it was useless because of the unfamiliar words and strange syntax. I did find out that there was a campus nearby. With almost the same name as Leslie’s and roughly in the same location.
Looking out the window was an even bigger trip. There was the city alright, but with architectural styles unlike anything I knew. Still recognizably skyscrapers though.
There were no visible roads or cars. Little squat bulbous vehicles scooted along on elevated guideways, sometimes two or three in a pack. The track split in places. Some of the little pods went one way, the rest went the other way.
I didn’t know what to make of any of it. But I knew I’d had enough. I returned to the charcoal glyph, referenced my phone for the steps, then performed the dance. It even surprised me the second time.
At first I thought it had returned me home. But while the layout of the apartment was recognizably my own, there were pictures of me on the wall with people I didn’t know in places I had no recollection of visiting.
My phone worked this time. But some woman I don’t know answered. I checked to make sure the number was right, and it was. Next order of business was to check the internet. It was a huge relief to find the English language more or less as I remembered it, but with gendered verbs and a couple new kinds of punctuation mark.
Given the hour, there was no way I’d be able to talk anybody into meeting with me. Even Leslie. So I turned in for the night, experiencing probably the most intense form of that strange feeling you get when you sleep in an unfamiliar bed.
It was mine in a sense, wasn’t it? If I’m here, does that mean another Zach is back in my apartment right now? Eventually my thoughts slowed, and I drifted off to sleep.
Waking up was a trip. Memories of my dreams still fresh, it took nearly a minute for the reality of my situation to dawn on me. The ritual. The strange city. This apartment. Like slowly remembering after a night of drinking what you got up to and why you’ve awoken naked in a field somewhere with a goat wearing a party hat.
I searched for what I knew of Leslie’s work info, educational history and so on. Eventually I found her, or this version of her. I called the listed number and waited as her phone rung on the other end. “Hello?” Relief washed over me upon hearing that beautiful, familiar voice. “Leslie, I was wondering if you’re free to meet for lunch. There’s something I want to talk about.”
Silence followed. Then “…I’m sorry, who is this?” I blinked. How could she not recognize me? “It’s your boyfriend.” I heard a disgusted sigh. “I don’t know what your angle is, creep, but fuck off. I don’t have a boyfriend and I hardly want one who crank calls random women.” She hung up.
I’d entertained the possibility that we’d never met in this timeline. Or dimension? Parallel universe? Whatever. It just didn’t become real for me until then. I felt gutted, and at the same time, felt silly for reacting that way. My own Leslie was still waiting for me back home, after all.
I stopped what I was doing and furrowed my brow. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that I had no idea how to get back to my own, specific Earth. Would it eventually loop around? Would I be recalled somehow?
I started to panic, and efforts to suppress it failed. The one thing I latched onto in order to avoid a full blown breakdown was the idea of contacting Zachary. As much as I loathed asking him for help. Although, if Leslie and I never dated in this timeline, she probably never dated him either.
Turns out they were married. Fucking figures. I swallowed my discomfort and plied him for information. Oddly, the embellished old house still sat where I remembered it.
He explained that when I pointed it out. “The Institute standardizes the locations of its outposts in every continuity we’ve so far discovered. That makes life easier for our operatives who do a lot of dimensional travel.”
More of the matter-of-fact delivery of what seemed before like total bullshit. It didn’t irritate me now that I’d experienced firsthand proof.
“What is it to me if somebody I know thinks I’m a lunatic, or a con artist?” he wondered aloud. “Am I going to ever meet that person again? Do I have to work with them? Are they the grand arbiter of what is real?
People like that go through life believing that the miniscule fraction of reality they’ve explored is enough to fully understand it. That they’re so blinkered is indeed a problem. For them, not for me.”
I felt like Brer Rabbit encountering the Tar Baby. If I were to engage, I would only become stuck, and increasingly tangled up in the resulting mess. I could assent to some of what he said as evidence of it now surrounded me.
But he constantly slipped in allusions to other ideas in passing that I felt certain were superstition or pseudoscience, as if to tempt me into disputing any of it. I knew that wouldn’t get me any closer to home.
“How do I get back to the specific Earth I came from?” His eyes snapped up to meet mine. He appeared alarmed. “You’re joking, right? You use your Abraxas stone. The one it shows you how to make in the same book with the ritual instructions.” I objected that there had been no such information in the book I’d seen. He went and pulled out one that looked identical.
It almost was. The sole difference proved to be the additional page on which a series of steps for building a small clay pendant were shown. An inverted triangle with the word “ABRACADABRA” at the top. Then again below it, but missing the last letter. Then again below that, missing the last two letters and so on until at the bottom there was only an “A”.
This shit again. “Oh, I understand your reaction” Zach broke in. “Abracadabra became syonymous with superstition and hokey folk magic because of abundant literature written during the Great Plague of London by numerous scholars, lamenting the fact that ignorant peasants wore counterfeit Abraxas stones from chains around their necks in the hope that it would invoke magical protection against sickness.
How that came to happen was the notice by peasants of Abraxas stones worn by gnostic scholars, for an entirely different purpose. They appropriated the practice not realizing what the Abraxas stone is actually for, simply wanting some of the apparent power wielded by gnostics to employ for their own benefit.
Even the gnostics had a skewed idea of it. It’s true you can summon more powerful beings from other dimensions, but not in the sense of a genie or demon that lives to serve a master. Just beings that evolved differently, sometimes with a more advanced understanding of medicine, physics or whatever.
Stay Tuned for Part 5!