Chapter 1: Summoned

It was raining outside. It does that periodically in coastal Delaware, often at night. This one was a doozy, coming down in buckets. I usually don’t mind a little rain now and then. It’s good for the farmers, and I have a soft spot for farms. My first job, at thirteen, was on a farm, and my first (unconsummated) love was the farmer’s daughter. One of my first (unconsummated) loves, anyway. There was also Carol Dawson, but she was an entirely different story. Pleasant memories they are!

Rather than cook for myself, on the way home I stopped at The Cove, in Bayside. It’s kind of on the tony side, but I was passing by and I felt like having a beer. The Cove is probably your typical golf club watering hole. There’s a bar in the middle, tables around it, and an undersized dance floor with a stage for a band. It’s clean and well-lit, and the burgers aren’t bad. I didn’t feel like fast food or pizza, so a burger was top of the list.

I’d had a long Sunday at the shop. It was Senior Week. All the kids who had just graduated from high school swarmed to Ocean City, Maryland, looking for fun and finding each other. Fenwick Island is like a dwindling extension of Ocean City, driving north on Coastal Highway. You pass 146th Street and the street name logic changes. There’s no 147th Street. You barely notice leaving Maryland and entering Delaware until you don’t get socked for sales tax. I used to tell people I sell sea shells by the seashore, which actually covered my shop pretty accurately. I also sold bathing suits and tee shirts, flip flops and caps, sun glasses, sun block and souvenirs, that kind of stuff. I’d never get rich, but I only had to work from April Fools’ Day through the end of September. The rest of the time I could be a beach bum if I wanted to, which I didn’t. I much preferred traveling, though in my own way. The tourist trade was plentiful enough to allow me to do that fairly comfortably.

I had my burger and beer, sitting at one of the tables. A friend of mine, Sarah O’Donnell, was at the bar holding court. She also sold sea shells by the seashore, further down the highway and closer to the Boardwalk. For every customer I got she had three or four. She had a house in Bayside with the water on one side and the golf course on the other, which wasn’t cheap. She could afford it easily. She had a comparable place in Florida. She was about forty, blondish, and fairly good-looking overall. She was tanned and toned. Her cleavage was her very best feature and she liked showing it off.

Sarah liked men a lot and she didn’t keep it a secret. She was pretty frank about it, in fact. She favored paunchy and balding and filthy rich, with lots of investment suggestions. She was in good form that night; a couple of those fellows were thinking seriously of fighting each other for her favors. It would have made a good show.

I watched it all from a distance, mildly interested but not involved. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I was filthy enough for Sarah, but not rich enough. Nor was she my type. I prefer my women a little less calculating.

I had a second beer to unwind a little. I’d had a couple of shoplifters that day, a domestic altercation, and three screaming children; I didn’t sell ice cream and they wanted it, demanded it, required it, immediately, on the spot, and at that very moment. It was pretty much a typical twelve hour work day in a tourist town. I was looking forward to getting home, having a shower, and hitting my bed, to do it all again the next day so I could make another trip to the bank.

My waitress was a cheerful slip of a girl with maroon hair, or maybe it was vermilion, in an unbecoming but trendy cut. She was half my size, which would have put her around ninety or a hundred pounds. She looked like she was about half my age, which would have made her fifteen. She had to be at least three years older than that to work in a place where they sold liquor, but she didn’t look it. Her name tag said she was Wilma, which she pronounced “Vilma” in an East European accent. She pushed dessert like she got a commission on it, so I had a piece of pie and coffee. I made sure to leave her a nice tip when I left. Cute always gets me.

Outside it was still raining enthusiastically. There was a stiff breeze blowing the rain sideways every now and then. I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt, tourist town garb. I was soggy by the time I made it to the car. I dropped my phone into a puddle, naturally, and I bent over to pick it up.

That was when I was Summoned.

* * *

Approximately thirty two years ago a man named John Jones met a girl named Mary Smith. Honest to God, that was what they were named. They fell in love, or maybe it was just lust. They married, and six months later they had a child. That was me. Shortly after that Johnny and Mary divorced. My biofather ran off to find himself, mainly because Mary was a self-centered weirdo hippy chick who drove the people around her nuts. He was a different kind of self-centered weirdo hippy guy, at least so they told me. I was raised, if you could call it that, in rural Delaware by a single mom who moved from dramatic crisis to dramatic crisis. Her last crisis was an early but undramatic heart attack that came to her one night while I was off in the Army in Afghanistan.

My Mom had gone through phases in a never-ending quest to be Different. One week she was big on fairies and angels. The next she was an astrologer. She wanted to discover the Secrets of the Pyramids, but never went to actually look at them; she did read a book by Erich von Dänikin. She started writing a book featuring knights and damsels but she dropped it because she didn’t actually know anything about the fourteenth century, horses, or sword fighting. She tried Theosophy and then she tried to be a Rosicrucian. When I was born she was going through her occult phase. That was how I came to be named Asmodeus John Jones. It was kind of a “Boy Named Sue” situation. I got into a lot of fist fights growing up. You try being named after a demon sometime. Unless you can actually breathe fire (I learned how; it’s not that hard but it’s dangerous) or you have bat wings or something like that, the other kids will pick on you. I usually went by my middle name, which sounded like an alias or a Martian Manhunter. Between being Asmodeus Jones or Johnny Jones it’s a tossup.

The fights tapered off as I grew older and more mature. Approaching my full growth might have had something to do with it. I’m six feet four and I go to the gym every other day to keep in shape. Unless it was a mob or a burglary, I didn’t have to call the police very often. Actually, I hadn’t had to call them at all to date; who the hell burgles tee shirts anyway? We seldom see mobs on Fenwick Island. I’m not sure we’ve ever had one.

The other thing I have, besides the name of a demon, is an awareness of the texture of Reality. I’m sure I’m not the only person who does, but I know there aren’t many of us; otherwise we’d be tripping over each other.

Current thinking in the world of mathematics and physics is that reality is eight dimensional, of which we see three dimensions. My current thinking on the subject, without being smart enough to develop the math to back it up, is that it’s sixty four dimensional or more. We’re physically aware of four: Length, width, depth, and mass. I know. Mass isn’t strictly a “dimension,” but try ignoring it when you’re building something. Velocity might be too. It’s part of the structure of reality. That would mean we live in a five-dimensional world, but when you think on the subject, direction of velocity makes six, seven, and eight – the old x, y, and z coordinates. That makes eight easily observable dimensions. All we have to do is define them. So, yeah. It’s that much of an eight dimensional world.

Then there’s time, where it gets really interesting. We’ve been thinking of time as the “fourth” dimension, but it has its own subset: Past, present, and future, plus duration. Einstein’s math says that all of time exists at the the same “time,” just like all of space does. Duration would be what ties past, present, and future together. So that’s at least twelve dimensions, none of them very remarkable, all easy to document.

There’s also “direction” to time, just like the physical dimensions. That adds another four. We expect time to go from past to future, but it’s more complicated than that. Hang a 180 and you’re traveling backward in time. That’s pretty obvious, even if it does make for an unusual accomplishment. Most of us have had incidents of dejà vu. It’s actually more complicated than that; think of it as hanging an 1800, which is bigger than a 180, but still small enough to comprehend. 18,000 would be better, but still understating by lots of zeroes. Nor is it a two-dimensional trip, just forward and backward. There are x, y, and z axes, plus d for distance. That adds up to the final four of a verifiable sixteen dimensions. I’m pretty sure there are many, many more beyond those, but they’re also beyond my comprehension, things like gravity, that we kind of know about, and other things we don’t have a handle on yet, like space warpage; or things we’ve never even considered, like cosmic moods or intergalactic digestion, plus interdimensional metadata to keep it all straight. Just inertia’s probably good for at least another four.

Hanging an 1800 would be pretty hard for most people, but what if you hung a 1200? Or a 2700? Or a 2714.62? You’d be off on an entirely different temporal tangent, barging into an alternate reality.

Strangely enough, the proof of this little bit of speculation is in the pudding. Most of us have had occasions where we’ve encountered things that were true last week but aren’t, or aren’t quite, this week – the spelling of a word, an address, the name of a public figure, that sort of thing. Either we’re having memory glitches or we’ve slipped into an alternate reality. Tack a handful of zeros onto the end of the 3600 temporal degrees we were looking at and we’re closer to the way it actually works. The idea is that alternate universes are just a Planck’s Length apart. Planck’s Length is one ten to the thirty fifth of a meter — ten followed by thirty five zeroes — and it’s considered the smallest possible length above nothing at all. There’s no such thing as a half Planck’s Length.

My experience says that reality streams are less than a Planck’s Unit apart in some places, that they actually overlap, which is how most of us end up someplace that’s the same, but different in some teeny-tiny aspect.

So what’s all this got to do with me? I’ve got the mental bump to tell when that happens. I can mentally “hear” the change. Once I figured what it was, I also figured how to get back to the reality stream I had come from – or how to explore further afield. Going from one stream to another is kind of like a flinch; it bumps you over a few Planck’s Lengths to the right or left or up or down. Once I learned to flinch, I learned how to aim, using the trusty x, y, z, and d idea. There’s also ‑x, ‑y, ‑z, and ‑d. Or you could mix and match, like ‑x, +y, +z, ‑d, which would be back in time, “north” of your timeline, “left” declination, and “d” number of seconds into the past, or something like that; the terminology doesn’t really fit what’s actually going on and I’m not a mathematician. That’s the best I can explain it.

That was about what happened to me there in The Cove’s parking lot in the driving rain. X was zero, d was zero. Y and z both had a dizzying number of digits to them. I’d never had an external force applied to me to slip reality streams. It was a new experience.

I really, really didn’t like it.