Father Damien Carmody had recently taken up the position of Dimension Monitor for the Vatican Council on Universal Expansion, and on a fine, green-tinted afternoon not far from Port Shantabula, he accepted a fancy cigarette from Don Martin Prosper who had brought me to Dimension K on his transformer-driven yacht. The Don smoked Turkish Ovals, and he leaned across the wrought iron cafe table to light the cigarette for Carmody with a lighter that looked like a tiny silver pistol.
I had come to Dimension K with Prosper on his invitation. This he had offered as a way to “refresh the narrative” for my prime-time network show about ghosts and cryptids. In development, the producers had thought about calling it “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” but that was too long, so we called it “A World Beyond.” It was doing better than “The Screaming,” but not as well as “The Twilight Zone,” and the network was floating the idea of changing up the format or possibly just canceling it unless ratings improved. So far, a long weekend in Dimension K had offered a few trivial concepts for the show, but nothing quite like what Carmody was about to tell us.
“You both came Friday on the del Q’annaqui,” he said.
“Much as you did a couple of weeks back,” said the Don. “I took it out beyond the shipping lanes this time because we are still working out some of the time-lock seals, and effective range is always a wild card. Would not want to boost anybody into Dimension K who didn't want to go!”
“Nor anyone who has not paid,” observed Carmody. In the same hand, he had the flat fancy cigarette between the fork of his fingers and also managed a glass of whiskey on ice with his thumb, ring, and pinkie fingers in what looked to be a practiced maneuver.
“It did not cost either of you, of course,” said the Don, spreading an exculpatory hand in front of the paisley ascot at this throat.
“My understanding,” said Carmody, “is that you've made an arrangement with Rome on my behalf. And I’m sure your old friend Victor Princip may find a way to cut you in on development money if the show gets picked up again.”
Don Martin Prosper produced a grin, almost as if he’d been caught out. He was taller than me, and I was slightly above average height. He was broader too, considerably so, and was evenly tanned as if to attest his presence at sun-soaked venues around Mallorca or Bermuda when many of us were struggling with galoshes in the snow. His hair was still thick on his well-shaped head and silvered at the temples. No doubt he considered himself both a gentleman and an explorer, and the twinkle in his eye was mostly an indicator of personal ease and good humor.
A waiter came by wearing a service apron over his nylon mesh overall. The waiter was a smallish, mohawk-haired, hare-lipped, cat-faced cryptid called an Elomptereen with a slotted hole in this throat. The waiter asked if we wanted any more cake. We did not. He removed a plate of blue and white crumbs, and Don Martin asked him for another martini, up, dirty, and with three olives.
Reporting back with the triangular glass on a tray, the Elomptereen asked if we had come on the del Q’annaqui. The Don asked why he wanted to know.
“I was told it almost sank,” said the waiter, hiding a smirk with only moderate success.
“We know how Elomptereens hate boats and enjoy their sinking,” said the Don. “Now, if you don't mind, I am talking with my colleagues about subjects that do not concern you.”
The waiter laid down the drink with a bowl of peanuts and backed away with an ambiguous grin. I noticed he had a shiny medallion pinned on his front pocket that reminded me of a little house.
“And as a reminder,” I said to the Don, “I do have to be back on the sound stage in a couple of days. I don't think they will let me postpone again.”
“It's a small matter of getting transit papers,” said the Don less than reassuringly.
We were on the open top deck of the airship Queen of Agriconnaughtrie, and I expected to disembark in the morning. That, presumably, would allow me enough time to get a transit pass from Kedgers down at the Capital. That, in turn, would grant me an untroubled return to standard dimension and my day job on television. Don Martin Prosper had often been generous and forthcoming about his trans-dimensional boat and the “fresh perspective” I might enjoy having crossed to a Near Vibratory Present such as Dimension K. The idea was that some esoteric feature of Dimension K might provide intriguing storylines for new episodes of “A World Beyond." But the more I saw of Dimension K, the less this seemed a likely outcome. Network television would never, for instance, allow me a tale about boat-hating cryptids with slotted holes in their throats.
Elomptereens may have hated boats, but apparently, they were indifferent to airships, and many were employed thereupon. The Queen ran on a small amount of fossil fuel, but it was not a fast traveler, and its main function was to float a thousand people in comfort a mile high above the surface of Fwomptwynghe, which, for what it's worth, is the Dimension K equivalent of the United States. The serene flotation of the airship is accomplished by virtue of a device called an AGM. At an early date, the anti-gravity modules were too heavy to operate. Once Kedgers had perfected a lightweight AGM, Dimension K humans were able to abandon their surface dwellings, typically to float in luxury airships a mile above the lab-grown Elomptereens that outnumbered them in Fwomptwynghe.
Probably I had left it too long before getting transit papers from Kedgers, and now it would be catch as catch can that I might not lose the show and much else with it. Without the show or something like it, there promised little savor in what life I might obscurely lead. Wanting not to think of my old friend as an opportunistic dissembler who had enticed me into a dangerous endeavor by partial concealment, I would concentrate on getting back to Manhattan on time and in good shape. “A World Beyond” may have needed me, but almost certainly, I needed it more.
Some of our older filmgoers may remember Victor Princip as The Terrible Ogg, a cinematic monster big on the silver screen during the silent era. Ogg was my early invention, and Ogg's gaunt visage was famous from Saginaw to Singapore for a time. He was compared favorably to the German Nosferatu character and probably was a precursor to a cinematic Dracula. But Ogg was not a blood-sucker, nor even truly a monster. Ogg was, in a way, an early vector for dimensional transformation—insofar as he could transform any being into any other type of being, real or chimerical. “Iconic” would not be an inaccurate way to describe the way Ogg, in a feature called Senator Doom, turned a corrupt judge into an owl that flew up into a corner of the courtroom and hooted at the prosecution. It might even be argued that it was my demonstration of “extra-dimensionality” that had sparked Don Prosper’s interest in the subject.
But Ogg’s star faded, and I was forced to scrape together a life after Ogg. Lean years and setbacks notwithstanding, recently, it had become my excellent good fortune to have been “rediscovered” by network television as an avuncular figure suitable for introducing mildly unsettling tales of premonition and untimely death. Where I had been The Terrible Ogg, now I became Doctor Dennis, at nine pm Eastern (eight Central) weekly to be seen before a crackling fire with a cup of tea and an invitation to explore the unknown.
Anyone with questions as to why humans in Dimension K might want to float in an airship above Fwomptwynghe is encouraged to reference the recent Kedgers report on Elomptereen Uprisings and how their general chaos has made all but the most private gated communities almost insufferable. As to Elomptereen misbehavior generally, one is directed to the Uprising Appendix to see how they were created in a laboratory as worker drones; and how the genetics team had not bred out sarcasm and anger quite to the extent that the designers had intended.
Not that Elomptereens were dangerous in a criminal sense, more that they were typically angry, prejudiced, intolerant, and suspicious of any and every attempt to give them access to what most of us would call a more refined type of life. To the arts, medicine, and boats (and, as will be demonstrated, birds), they were hostile and, too often, actively so.
I put all these matters aside because Carmody was talking about his church and how it operated across an array of parallel dimensions.
“If you've been in touch with Rome about my passage,” said Carmody, “you probably already know about the Vatican Observatory. And that the Vatican has taken note of so-called flying saucers and such. And because we have a robust science budget, we don't pretend that the world we see is the only one we've got.”
“Jesus saves little green men?” I was gazing down at an amber Islay single malt that sat before me in a sweating glass. Nominally a Catholic, I had been much a doubter since Austria.
“I will say that the personality of Jesus is dependent on the dimension,” said Carmody, with a smile that never quite got past his lips. He was slightly built, sandy-haired, and was endowed with a dusting of faint freckles across his nose. His eyes were larger than the average, and they featured a downward pull at the outer edges as if to emphasize a concern that might never be expressed. “In Dimension K, we have a fascinating history of the Jesus figure--unlike standard dimension where the story of the cross is well-known.”
“Does it not involve a cross?” I said.
“In Dimension K, there is a Jesus figure. But He did not die on the cross.”
“Would I come across as disrespectful if I asked why He then matters in the first place?” This was Don Martin Prosper.
The elder Prospers had attended the same Catholic church as the elder Princips in Austria many years back, and I had, as a lad, exchanged many an unrepentant, cross-pew smile with Don Martin back when we were not much more than tykes. We had lost touch but had become friends again somewhat by chance--if mutual, unplanned attendance at a flying saucer convention in Reno can be considered “chance." In any case, soon, we both would be heading back home to Manhattan but on opposite sides of the park.
The transformer that brought us to Dimension K had been developed by Don Martin Prosper over the course of years on the Continent and only recently had become viable for transport. He had brought me along to Dimension K because of a mutual interest in good stories and good money (Carmody had been accurate to suggest that the Don wanted in on development dollars if “A World Beyond” might be reconfigured), but he was charging a premium for passage generally.
“Jesus matters here because of what he said,” said Carmody. “Not because he suffered.”
“I'm sure I've heard more about the suffering than the insights,” I said.
“Yes, in standard, that is all true,” said Carmody. “But in Dimension K, there was no cross, no death, no resurrection. He was a philosopher, and Christians here try to follow his word. The symbol for Christ is a book with a little roof over it. Not a cross, which in Dimension K is only a meaningless distraction.”
“And what did the Christ figure end up doing if he didn't get crucified?” I said.
“He went to work at his father's architectural firm in Jerusalem. He became a mid-level architect, and he managed to design several important public buildings.”
“So he gave up.”
“He wrote everything that we already know about. ‘Suffer the children,’ et cetera. It's just that when he saw the tide going against him, he figured it was no help to anyone to get nailed up with criminals, and he told the Pilate he'd just stop preaching altogether. And they let him do that. So the words come down to us here, but the crucifixion does not. There are factions in the church that wonder if this might not be a better model after all. Needless to say, it is a struggle.”
“Perhaps we want more of the philosophy but less of the blood.”
Father Carmody stubbed out the end of the cigarette. “We are not a well-understood nor even a hopeful faction within the church. In Dimension K, He never died for your sins. He worked as an architect for your sins instead.”
“Do you think it makes the philosophy itself more effective to decouple it from suffering?”
“Yes. But let me quickly add that you would be surprised, perhaps, at how similar belief here is, despite there being no cross. There is no data to suggest the Christian message is any more effective minus the cross than it is with the cross.”
The slot-throated waiter came by again, unbidden. He had a dead pigeon in hand. “We don't like birds very much.” He lifted the feathery bundle to his face and bit hard into it. Blood spurted past the Don and produced crimson paisley on the white tablecloth. The waiter tossed the flat, bitten bird onto the table. He wiped the blood from his chin. A feather floated down into my lap.
“Are you a Christian?” said the Don, indicating the little metal pin that looked like a house on the waiter's apron. Prosper's composure was remarkable, but I had come to expect this from people who knew Dimension K better than I did.
“Very much so,” said the Elomptereen. “My name is Belvedere, and I believe in the architecture of faith.”
“Thank you, that will be all,” said Carmody.
“We don't like boats, and we don't like birds,” said Belvedere. “We also don't care to be told that we need to hire out an incubator to complete our gestation period--when it's common knowledge that we are viable at five months just like the rest of you.”
“Thanks for the update!” I said, feeling assaulted by disastrously incorrect assumptions. I knocked back the Islay malt. Carmody and the Don shared what seemed a less alarmist outlook.
“We struggle with our flock in every venue,” said Carmody with a thin smile. He finished his whiskey and plunked the cut glass tumbler down next to the mangled bird. The Elomptereen asked if he would want another, and, of course, Carmody agreed to it. We were guests of the Don, and it would all be on his invoice. The waiter retreated.
“I had always thought the problem with Christians is their confusion,” I said. “The contrast between the words of the Christ figure and the awfulness of his death have become conflated into self-sorry righteousness that destroys any positive message in the text. But here we don’t have that, and still, the words are at best background noise to a world of prejudice and stupidity.”
“In standard dimension,” said Carmody. “we have a plot twist that ostensibly makes it harder to ignore the words of the crucified. But the crucifixion has no impact on the words themselves. Or at least, in my personal opinion, the resurrection is a parlor trick. And so we are left with the words alone. For instance: ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?’”
“That is a good one,” I said. “But I don't see Belvedere benefiting much.”
“Would it help,” said Carmody, “If we added a crucifixion? Because the teaching can be adjusted.”
“Don't do anything on my account!” I said. This drew a chuckle out of Carmody. I turned to the Don, who was busy tapping out another cigarette from a white cardboard box. “You ought to have told me I would need transit papers to get back.”
“It was a rule change while I was away,” he said. “It's only a formality. Probably I could sneak you back on board the del Q’annaqui when I go back the day after tomorrow, but if they caught me, it could cost me the franchise. Kedgers is tightening up because they see there's demand for inter-dimensional travel.”
“It does not make it any easier,” said Carmody, “that the day after tomorrow is Gar Flancie Day.”
“I had forgotten,” said the Don. “I'll have to secure the yacht tonight. But I am sure it will work out.”
I asked what they meant about Gar Flancie Day, and Carmody said it was a twin holiday of sorts, but apart from that, very much a reaction of opposites. Several years ago, an excursion boat sank off Port Shantabula, drowning as many as a hundred human children on their way to an island picnic. It is still mourned by thousands in town. Thousands of humans.
Kedgers had decreed that humans could have their somber remembrance in the morning. But the rest of the day was given over to Elomptereen demonstrations that would turn typically to a bacchanal at night. Elomptereens had already commemorated the sinking of the Gar Flancie with parades, songs, strutting performances, and general abandon. It was a celebration of the disaster for Elomptereens, and Don Martin Prosper said they had in the past tried to drill holes in boats on Gar Flancie Night.
Leaving the airship cafe with Carmody and Prosper, I asked the cryptid waiter if he had plans for Gar Flancie Day. He told me he was picking up his costume after his shift.
The transit desk was “closed for renovation” when I got down to the Capital. After chasing down more than one uncooperative functionary, I gave up and hired a Throckmorton all the way back up to Port Shantabula. There I would present myself to the Don and let him know I expected an accommodation from him because he had brought me over, neglecting to relate at least one important detail. With no real apology, he agreed and told me to meet him at the pier the next morning.
I needed to be back at Studio Seven by 4 pm. Passage across dimensions was more or less instantaneous, but the trick was to “stick the landing," as Prosper would have it. Already it was plain I might blow the schedule, lose the show, and much else, and so far, all I was coming back with was a cockamamie story about a loser Jesus who wimped out and went bourgeois when it counted. That tale was never going to make it to network TV, so my trip to DK would likely prove a waste of effort at best.
On the morning of Gar Flancie Day, the homestar cast long shadows across the waterfront, already the site of two counter-demonstrations. The first one was a smallish, somber, and for me anyway, a moving ceremony where an array of flowers provided a backdrop to the recitation of the names of ninety-eight children who had drowned on the boat that day. Behind it, a row of substantial boats stood at anchor, including, several yards north, the big del Q'annaqui, a resplendent example of the ship builder's trade with a broad command deck and gleaming brightwork throughout the superstructure.
Carmody was there to spend a few minutes with the mourners though none of them seemed to pay him any mind. He said the ceremony had gotten smaller of late. For the first couple of years, it had seemed half the human population of Port Shantabula was in attendance. Now there were perhaps two or three hundred. The ceremony was not over-long, and soon the mourners seemed ready to make way from the watery commemoration.
Now at the base of the pier, another kind of crowd approached. I ought to have been aboard the yacht already, but I had hung back out of respect for the Gar Flancie memorial. The Don, tall, silver-haired, and robustly tanned, was visible on deck aboard the del Q’annaqui, and he waved at me as if to say (literally) the coast was clear.
It was not.
The new crowd, already shouting glad hatred of boats and all who floated upon them, stood to outnumber mourners by a considerable number, and still, it was early. Already I could see banners with the DK Christian symbol: an upright rectangle with a little triangle over it like a roof. My passage to the gangway on Prosper's yacht was, in fact, blocked by a shouting, can-banging vanguard of Elomptereen demonstrators.
Later, they would parade all the way from their warrens beyond Muddy Poo down Tomorrow Street to Shantabula Square with gaudy floats and hundreds of kazoos and flutes. They would keen and catcall into the night. By then, humans, in their grief, would have long-retired back to airships high above the Elomptereen.
One of the more memorable placards read “Jesus Walked on Water Because He Hated Boats." Half a dozen slightly built cryptids re-enacted an imaginary drowning: they gagged, they clawed the air, they fell. And glub-glub after the third time down. Drums and flutes played the background to these antics while over a hundred happy cryptids cheered them on. Together they exuded a swampy odor that pervaded the waterfront.
Carmody got up on a pair of stilts. His slim, black-clad figure towered over the cryptids in their nylon mesh uniforms, and they hailed him with a brassy cheer. Swaying on his perch, he quieted the crowd only enough to say they must back away from the memorial and allow the human mourners to vacate the waterfront. With resentment, they complied, but the human mourners, who seemed a defeated rabble, were forced to run a gauntlet of taunts and tossed vegetables. Carmody did nothing to prevent Elomptereen projectile vomiting that spattered some of the retreating human mourners with an obscene yellow ichor.
As the Elomptereens were preoccupied with mourner-taunting, I was able to gain the ramp up to the del Q'annaqui. Struggling to keep my footing on the slippery ramp, I heard what I thought were frogs calling across a pond in a burpy-sounding cadence that seemed louder than it ought. Also, frogs do not gather but at ponds; indeed, the bay of Port Shantabula was no pond. Only a few moments it took to understand the repetitive keening was out of the Elomptereens, who had lapsed, it seemed, into a sonic trance. The slotted hole in their throats allowed them to caterwaul without opening their mouths. The unified, clud-clud rhythm produced by their slotted throats—technically “Ingersoll's Declivity”—was loud, insistent, and demoralizing.
Halfway up the gangway, I twisted an ankle and fell. Typically, I'd have gotten up without ceremony, but the buzzy croaking had reached a pitch that seemed tuned to maximum sonic discomfort. I found myself dizzy and drained and as if needles were piercing my eardrums.
Now, I can vouch that this cryptid phenomenon, often called a “Panish Vortex," was known to produce peculiar effects on humans caught inside it. Somehow, it triggered both deep memories and a sort of vibrating paralysis that was difficult to think through and painful to feel.
In a matter of moments, I found myself reliving a fiction that allowed me to transform police officers into feral hogs and slobbering hounds into pink-eyed bunnies. But now it was as if the Terrible Ogg had turned on me. Perhaps it was a factor of having aged considerably since those first cinematic transformations, or perhaps it had never occurred to me how Ogg's power would manifest in the body. If it was not bad enough that my head throbbed with Panish vibrations, I also felt as if an electric charge were driving my limbs apart. Somehow, I managed to stand myself up on the narrow gangway, an unmoored twig, it seemed, feeling my age.
Carmody came to the edge of the pier in a black cassock. On wavering stilts above the rabble of smallish cryptids, he waved at me as if to signal some way toward the del Q'annaqui. One of my feet was numb, and I had to stand on the other while trying to balance against a swaying chain “railing” that provided much more of a guideline than a barrier. The spongy timbers were green and black with slime, and I slipped one more time. But this time, I went splat down into the water.
I choked in the freezing bay water and somehow managed to wrap my arms around a mossy timber. I did haul myself even with the surface, but a gulp of water had gone down the wrong way, and it was all I could do to see straight.
Carmody came towards me—yes, he was walking on water, or at least it looked that way. It may have been the stilts.
The Panish Vortex was stronger, louder, and faster, and the sound of it only added to the confusion I felt, having dropped into the drink. Carmody was close enough that I clutched the dry bottom of his cassock just above the surface of the water. I searched the mild, gray, hooded eyes in Carmody's head to see if he was as disturbed as he ought to have been. But the recesses of his sad-looking eyes were distant and even officious. He had a job to do, and it involved getting me on a boat. On stilts and with me in tow, he maneuvered us both close enough to a pier that I could climb up a rudely hammered row of creosoted cross-beams, and soon I found myself back on the gangway, soaked, embarrassed, and exhausted.
The cryptid mob now deployed a novel projectile that seemed in plentiful supply from the back of a freezer truck. These were pints of hard ice cream, Kedgers brand, of course, and tasty, no doubt. But here, it seems the frosty treats—perhaps donated by the manufacturer—were half-pound projectiles hard as stones and, well-aimed, capable of delivering real damage to an intended target.
Carmody backed away, stilts in the water, and with ready cryptid help, soon was back up on the pier where he towered, again, over the badly-behaved Christians of his Dimension K flock. Pints of Kedgers ice cream flew past me and above my head, a dozen of these at a time. They bounced on the gangway and flipped up and over into the boat. Don Martin collected what fell in and set them off on a bench where a deckhand removed them, presumably to a nearby freezer.
Some of these also ricocheted off the boats and back into the crowd of Elomptereens, where the lids flew off to reveal colorful creamy solids. The little cryptids, having tossed all the pints, now retrieved of them what they could, tore them open, and fought one another with fists and teeth to scarf pints of chocolate, pistachio, or even the Dimension K “gweem” flavor, something like vanilla and fried fish and better tasting than it sounds.
The Don was quick to assist as I reached the top of the gangway, grabbing me under the arm with almost hurtful strength as I tried to secure my footing. Altogether I felt like the lamest old nuisance and that I ought to hide away until I could once again be of some use to the human experiment. What business had I to come looking for something fresh at my age! Better that I should retire quietly and let some young(er) hopeful take my place. Wet, angry, and half-numb from a combination of anger and cold, I sat on a bench next to a dented carton of vanilla fudge ice cream.
Carmody, now careering above the heads of his roistering Christers, spread his arms wide as if to imitate a cross. He maintained this curious posture even as his very stilts were lifted from the ground giving him even more height. The last image he presented was a T-shape silhouette, jerked often sideways by his bearers, against the faint-green sky over the bay of Port Shantabula. I was convinced he was play-acting with the “cross” configuration, but he was far off now, and it was difficult to tell if he wasn't somehow a captive of his co-religionists.
The ice cream attack melted away, and the cryptids and the mourners left the pier. The Don sent me to a quiet cabin where he provided a change of clothes. I slept for at least an hour before letting him know we needed to get started on the Dimensional shift if I was to get back to New York and still have a living. I was with him on the bridge when a message came through the wireless.
It was Carmody: “My friend, why have you forsaken me”?
The Don said Carmody was always quick with the one-liner and that I'd be back on the set in plenty of time.
About the Author
Andrew Edwards is a recovering techie living in New York's Hudson Valley. In 2015 and 2018, Rowman & Littlefield published his non-fiction book Digital is Destroying Everything. His play “Squashed Like a Bug” was produced in New York's East Village. Andrew has written dozens of articles about digital marketing for ClickZ. He is a WTC 9-11 survivor, having lived one block from the towers. Today he is working on stories about cross-dimensional travelers and the cryptids who populate a Near Vibratory Present.