Debbie and Chad have a very typical marriage.

Debbie has no desire to watch men in tight pants injure each other’s brains, and Chad was not keen on watching people of various sexual persuasions show the world how to make the perfect souffle. Debbie liked the beach, but Chad saw no real need for swimming suits, and to call them “bathing suits” was an oxymoron. Showing up to the beach in what people customarily bathe had Debbie concerned about the possibility of becoming the next naked Internet sensation. Chad could not find a polite way of telling her that for a host of reasons, that was very unlikely.

But they loved each other, or at least tolerated each other with a dogged determination. One of the things they did have in common was traveling, and when visiting Charleston, South Carolina, they found something that intrigued them both: ghost tours. Debbie had no expectations of actually seeing any ghosts, but the history of back alley duels, stunning lack of care that humans showed for fellow humans, and the debris that was left in the wake of such incivility was enlightening.

Chad was taken in by the stories and the storytelling. He was told of people trapped in their cars parked over a burial ground and nearly freezing to death at the “hands” of spirits, despite the searing summer heat of Charleston. There was a story of people trapped in an elevator for hours and witnessing menacing creatures wandering about in a place that was hot and red and terrifying. The story goes on to tell of people waiting on another floor for that elevator, but for them, there was no delay at all. What seemed like endless hours of torture for those who were trapped were just seconds to those waiting for the trans-dimensional elevator car. The advice given to those listening to the story was that if caught in a trans-dimensional elevator, do not exit the elevator. Just wait it out and the beasties will become bored and let you get back to whatever it was you were doing before being whisked off to Wonderland Hell.

Chad believed every word of it and spent too much time trying to assimilate his understandably wibbly-wobbly grasp of trans-dimensional physics with the supposed reality of ghosts and spirits and such. As he understood it, there were countless dimensions right there in your room, or car, or water closet. If that was the case, then why couldn’t you reach out and access a new dimension? Was it one of these tricky things that would involve a black hole or dark energy or dilithium crystals or a series of stiff drinks? There was a time in his youth, when imbibing a certain smoldering weed, that he became convinced that if he concentrated hard enough, he’d be able to leave his body for parts unknown. The nonsense that inebriants could set your mind free and great things could be achieved as easily as scrambling eggs seemed very real in those moments. Upon regaining some degree of sobriety and seeing the living train-wrecks he’d been sharing weed with, he decided that drugs and delusions were dangerous.

But stumbling upon a boring suburban Bible Belt bit of sophistry, that happened to be true in this case, did not dampen his interest in his bus station theory of the trans-dimensional multiverse. In a terrestrial bus station, people come, people go; the bus station exists, but so do Des Moines, Vegas, and the bus station bathroom. With a bit of this and that, you can escape the bus station and go just about anywhere, or you can spend your life in the bus terminal with the option of galling misbehavior beckoning to you from the bathroom. Were there places that otherworldly beings could travel in and out of our world as easily as going from the ticket counter to a bench then to a vending machine and then off to Oshkosh? It was a happy thought that kept Chad from being as effective at work as he otherwise might be.

Not long ago, Debbie and Chad received an invitation from a family member to go to New Hampshire. They liked New Hampshire. It was close enough to New York to be civilized, but not so influenced by Maine that there was little else other than pine trees and angry flies the size of small Cessnas. New Hampshire had struck a nice balance between life in the 21st century and a largely bleak wilderness. It also had the advantage of family, wonderful scenery, the Isles of Shoals, and a winner of a ghost tour.

The ghost tour was everything a ghost tour ought to be. The host was entertaining, the bus was appropriately kitschy, and the stories were wonderful. There was a story of a colonial merchant who made the logical decision to ally himself with the British rather than a bunch of roustabouts with a penchant for dress up and disdain for tea. The Sons of Liberty felt as though this merchant’s choice needed to be reconsidered. So, rather than have a sit down and attempt to straighten things out, the SOL planted a cannon at the front door of the merchant’s house. A cannonball was then sent through the door and on through the back of his opulent home. Apparently, this was not aberrant behavior for the SOL.

Other stories of shipwrecked maidens, mysterious lights, and a woman that walked the byways attempting to catch a ride with someone more corporeal than she were just some of the highlights. Near the end of the tour, a stop was made at a magnificent hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel, Debbie was full of “oh mys” and “wows,” while all Chad could think was, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no… and so on. It was an imposing structure that dripped with turn of the century elegance/creepiness. It seemed inevitable that given its age and appeal to rich type-A personalities, something naughty or frightful happened there on a frequent basis.

The inside of the hotel was as stunning as the outside. It didn’t take much imagination to see one’s self running into a younger Rose or Molly Brown years before taking a trans-Atlantic trip on an unsinkable Titan of a cruise ship. Or seeing a soused F. Scott Fitzgerald stumbling about the lobby trying to figure out what to write next. Debbie and Chad had no idea that they would be stopping by such a stunning, ornate reminder of a different slice of life. For Debbie, this was not much of a problem, as she always dressed in a way that was appropriate for just about any occasion. Chad had a different concept of appropriate.

Since the evening was to be dedicated to something with a childlike appeal (i.e. ghost stories), Chad decided to dress in the silliest way he had available to him. He would eventually have some regrets about this decision. He wore socks that, had it not been for a mishap with some bleach, would have matched perfectly. Old running shoes, ill-fitting cargo shorts, and a Doctor Who T-shirt that proclaimed that “bowties are cool” finished his look. Debbie is a tolerant woman.

The ghost tour made its way from the bus, past the remarkable edifice of the hotel, and prepared to enter a sparsely populated, inarguably timeless, and elegant lobby. Most of their expectations were met, but the part about being sparsely populated couldn’t have been further off the mark. It was crammed with people enjoying a black-tie event. Everyone was dressed as though they were expecting an Oscar. The guide made mention of the possibility that may be asked to leave the hotel post haste, but it wasn’t until they had made their entrance that Chad realized that being tossed out was a very real possibility and ultimately the right thing to do.

Some of the adults greeted the tour with a disdainful glower before returning to their conversation about whatever insanely rich people talk about. Chad thought this to be a perfectly understandable reaction. No one wants a bunch of uninvited nudists to crash a polite birthday party. Members of the tour, given the chance and a change of clothes, might have melded in with this pinkies-up crowd until talk of their portfolios became a topic. They were weeds in a rose garden.

The people that Chad found the most intriguing were the boys. They looked to range in age from twelve to fourteen. Each of them had tailor-made tuxedos to perfectly fit their slim frames. They all had the same haircut, the same serious bearing, the same posture. A couple of them had one leg up on the furniture, earnestly bloviating some story or point of view that those listening already understood and agreed with. The one-leg-up pose would vacillate between a Captain Morgan kind of thing to an earnest bending over the thigh to make sure their point was agreed and adhered to.

Chad didn’t feel the least bit jealous. He did wish he’d given the Doctor Who T-shirt a little more thought, but other than that, he felt a certain pity for everyone there. The mountain of expectations that had been placed upon the shoulders of all of these people must be ponderous. The poor little rich kid that complains about his lot in life and goes off and screws up his inheritance by getting caught doing something impossibly dumb seemed like a reasonable reaction to these pressures. Many people in other classes of society pray to be smitten with such riches, but judging by the strict uniformity that every one of those boys were expected to submit to, the other classes should be more judicious in what they wish for.

How was the word “no” regarded by the adults in this crowd? What happened to the kids that claimed they hated golf, or soccer, or lacrosse, or tennis and just wanted out? What happens to the kids who decide they don’t want any part of the family business? What happens to the kid who knows he comes from generations of venerated physicians but can’t stomach the schooling and whining patients? What happens to the boy who admits that the girl is beautiful but she’s also a pain in the ass and he’s not going to marry her?

Chad figured that this pressure cooker must produce a wide variety of human beings who were all expected to act within some very stringent guidelines. Or perhaps the pressure cooker created a few Atlases that were strong enough to hold up Ayn Rand’s Earth without shrugging. After seeing what the burden of being blessed with wealth and prestige might be like, Chad was even more appreciative of his deeply-appreciated life.

These assessments only took a few seconds, and as the weeds made their way through the rose garden of beautiful people, a most remarkable thing happened. One of the young men broke from his Captain Morgan mansplaining mode and made his way across the room for one reason or another. He passed right in front of Chad. He made a perfectly straight line through the procession of “people,” off to the Rube-a-con gathering no doubt, without acknowledging anyone in any way. He looked at no one, scoffed at no one; it was as though the rubes weren’t even there.

It may have been a perfectly reasonable way to proceed, and the fact he was able to plot a straight line through a moving crowd without hindering anyone was a modest marvel, but his refusal to say anything or recognize his fellow humans was troubling to Chad. There was no bob of the head, no glance either way, no scowl, no change in his stride. It was though they were unseen spirits in his bus station.

Chad looked back at the immaculately dressed, uniformed boys and saw that they were all wearing the same expression, one of deep concern, or at least feigned interest. A uniform reaction from a group of boys was to be expected. His first experience with the necessity of a uniform reaction was during a football game during recess in fifth grade. One of the boys brought a deck of dirty playing cards to school.

Chad was quite familiar with groups and teams of guys. They too all tended to laugh the same way at the same time about the same thing, and the ones that didn’t were on the outs. Chad was usually on the outs. But somehow, this was different. These were to be the movers and shakers in our society and they all thought the same way. Looking at them on the couch, it was easy to see that they were all cloning each other. Different opinions were not looked upon as an opportunity for discussion or enlightenment; they were threats.

Chad tried to check himself. His imagination was running off into the weeds again. Were his youthful liberal notions just getting the better of him? Was he in denial regarding his jealousy? Had he seen a slice of truth?

All of this was playing second fiddle to Mother Nature. Chad needed to pee. He wandered off in search of a loo and hoped that his Doctor Who T-shirt was not going to get him ousted from this austere pile of sticks and plaster.

He saw the sign for the men’s room and entered. The ceiling was ridiculously high; the detailed carvings in the thousands of square feet of oak were astonishing. A huge window in the room looked out over a steep, rocky, snow-covered terrain. An elegant yet comfortable looking settee was the only piece of furniture in the gigantic room. The conflagration in the fireplace looked as though it had been started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and was exactly the right intensity to keep the room cozy. The fireplace was adorned with marble friezes with wood highlights carved from African tigerwood.

“I don’t think I’m in the men’s room anymore,” said Chad.

“Welcome to the bus station,” said a very busty redhead who must have spent quite some time squeezing herself into a very tight green dress. She was seated on the settee. She must have popped in out of thin air because there was no ignoring this woman.

“…?”, asked Chad.

“Okay, one, you’re not supposed to know how this happened. Two, reading your mind is really easy. Three, baby powder is the key to getting into the dress. Four, baby powder is used everywhere in the multi-verse and the pisser is right over there.”

Chad turned and right underneath a giant recreation of the painting “Night Watch” was a good old-fashioned porcelain urinal.

“Recreation, my ass! That’s the original painting, so watch the splash,” said the redhead.

“How the hell can that be the original when nothing in here is real? And even if you’re right, how much does Rembrandt charge for a painting nowadays?” asked an irritated Chad.

“Nothing is real, huh? Hugo, would you mind establishing the reality of this bus station?”

Hugo then popped in out of thin air; he seemed to guarding what might have been a door. Hugo walked over to Chad in the most non-threatening way possible, then slapped him across the face.


“I can read your mind, Chad, and I really think you ought to go use the pisser,” said the redhead.

Chad didn’t like being told what to do by anyone, but the redhead was right: he was short on options. As he stood there relieving himself and wondering about the final destination of his urine and the how the plumbing in Wonderland actually worked, he wondered if he was coming down with a case of dimensia.

“Hah!” cried the redhead. “You’re not quite the dullard we expected. First Rembrandt, then da mentioning of dimensia rather than dementia. When ya popped in, we thought your intelligence to be in absentia.”

“This mind-reading thing is getting pretty old at this point. Could you please stop?”

“Sure, honey. I’ll give you every opportunity to garble up your thoughts with your mouth rather than having the clarity of pure thought be your conveyance of ideas.”

Chad couldn’t decide whether he hated or liked this woman. As that question crossed his mind, the redhead swung her legs off the two-sided settee she’d been lounging on, placed her elbows on her knees, and did all she could to look as likable as possible.

“I thought you said you’d stop reading my mind.”

“We just like fuckin’ with you guys.”

At the mention of the word “we,” other settees occupied by similarly-clad but different-looking women lounging on them popped into existence. A large table appeared on the opposite side of the room ringed with every type of human being imaginable. Men, women, Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Muslims: you name it, they were all there. At least that’s what Chad will tell you.

“Fuckin’ with us guys?” Chad didn’t even bother to mouth the words.

The redhead just stared politely at Chad, then said, “You asked me to pretend that I couldn’t read your mind.” Then, after a moment, “Chad, that’s not very polite…and neither was that. Okay, by referencing “you guys,” I meant humans. All nine billion of you.”

“Aha! Fat lot you know, it’s only like seven billion…or somethin’,” said Chad.

“Your collective inability to count is not my problem. This is the real world, Chad. I don’t know if God got bored with us and wanted to see what would happen if He created lesser critters who could reproduce beings reeking of their parents’ idiocy. I don’t know if he has a genuine affection towards you monkeys. I don’t know if there is a real heaven that contains trillions of beings and mountains of unplayed harps. I don’t know if there is a job that he wants done and your decades or minutes of life on that pretty little rock are a job interview. I do know that I know more than you, but that’s rather like being a taller midget. And, I know that you live on the planet in this universe with—I hate to use the word “intelligent” but everything is relative—life.”

“…We’re the only ones!? That seems like an awfully big waste of space.”

“Save your Saganisms for the great unwashed. The space your talking about is infinitesimal. It’s just another dimension and 13.8 billion years is the time it takes to sneeze. You are alone in the universe, monkey boy: how ya gonna handle it?”

“What about the UFOs and Area 51 and…” Chad was interrupted before he could embarrass himself beyond repair.

“That’s just us fuckin’ with y’all. There’s all kinds of things we do to mess you up. Internet porn, mass shootings, push-up bras, the Kardashians: it’s a very, very long list of shit. You guys are really gullible.” Then the redhead got very serious. “Would you like an identity for humans, Chad? Would you like to know who you are?”

“Okay,” said Chad, expecting some sort of species-centric slur.

“You’re Job.”

“…Like the, uhhh, Bible guy Job?”

“No, you ninny, like the heavy metal band that visits pain and suffering and plague upon your eardrums. Of course the Bible guy Job. How you handle the pain, frustration, unfairness, charity, and opportunities in your life are noticed. And if after all that crap you can stay focused on ideals bigger than your selfish ass, you could be close to God.”

“Are you guys angels?” asked Chad in a timorous voice.

“Uhhhhh…no. This is just us fuckin’ with ya again. Those folks that were trapped in that elevator watching unsavory creatures making their way down the catwalk were pretty clever folks; they never left the elevator. They’d a had a helluva time finding their way back. Might have taken centuries, but more likely, they never would have found it. There are places in every dimension that you shouldn’t go. You were pretty lucky that you didn’t manage to leave Earth when you were all messed up on pot; you might have disappeared yourself. You’re kind of a lightweight when it comes to inebriants, aren’t ya?”

“I guess.”

“When half a joint has you ready to go off to parts unknown, that qualifies you as a lightweight,” said the redhead.

“…Why am I here?” asked Chad.

“I dunno; you’re the party crasher. Something probably got squirrely. Your bus station analogy isn’t terrible. Let’s just say you were distracted and got on the bus to Hoboken by accident. It happens more often than you might think. And no, Frank Sinatra is not here.”

“So, this is just dumb luck?”

“Half of your observation is right. Things happen for a reason. Maybe you’ve been sent here to rub elbows, and whatever else you got, with a bunch of low-level demons for a reason. Chad, you’ve never belonged to anything, have you? Maybe this is your chance to find out if you belong here.”

“…Are humans really the only intelligent life in the Multiverse?” asked Chad.

“No, dumbass, I said YOUUUUniverse, not multiverse. And this is me NOT fuckin’ with you; yes, you’re it. You decide to kill yourselves one way or another and that’s the end of our fun and the end of the reason for your fishbowl of a dimension to exist. So, get on the stick, invent some super cool spaceships, get out there, be fruitful and multiply so we’ll have something to do.”

“Is that all you do? Just mess with us?”

“And what do you do for fun, Chad, watch TV?” said the redhead.

Chad nodded his “you got me” nod, as he thought about the entertainment value of luring people into demeaning situations.

“Are you close to God?” asked Chad.

“…,” then “…,” and finally, “You’re closer to God than we are. You can screw up a million times and he’ll still forgive you. None of us know why and all of us hate you for it. Our jealousy of you naked apes landed us here. We thought God had made a mistake and we thought we needed to start a war over the whole thing. We lost. Word of advice, Señor Simian: don’t fight with God. You’ll lose.

“Chad,” the redhead continued, “you still don’t know why you’re here or if you belong. Go over to the round table and see if you’re accepted. There won’t be anything halfway about the way you’ll be treated. Even we hate the lukewarm.”

“The people at the head of the table, the guys in tuxedos. They look like some of the tuxedo boys at the party all grown up.”

“Chad, there are angels and demons in unseemly meatsuits like yours all over your pretty little planet. Be mindful of how you treat strangers. It’s not wise to snub an angel, nor is it a good idea to enter the house of a demon. Everything you do matters. Everything you say matters. And now, here’s the really hard one: everything you think matters. Now, go find out if you belong here; you won’t have to say a word. They’ll let you know.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you are responsible for what you know and I want to make your life harder. That’s what we do here. I could do this through temptation, but doing it by expanding your understanding of God’s expectations is more fun. I don’t think you’re up to the challenge and we’d like to see you back here permanently. Now that you know more about life than you did, you can’t claim ignorance and life will be a little harder because now you know that everything matters. Responsibility is a bitch and playing dumb just won’t cut it. Now, go!”

Chad was as confused as he had ever been, but he’d been married for quite some time, so it was pretty easy to badger him into all kinds of ridiculous decisions. He had no idea why he was doing this, but somehow, he knew it would give him an answer. He felt as though this was some sort of interdimensional sorting hat and that he’d know which house to enter after it was all over. He hoped it wasn’t Slytherin.

The idea that he was in another dimension talking with demons was so crazy and yet so real he was working with a blank slate. He had no frame of reference. A giant white rabbit or Jimmy Stewart or a mad hatter would have been an enormous help. He passed settee after settee and all of the beautiful women looked right through him as though he wasn’t there and then snickered after he’d passed them.

As he approached the table, the table and all of those sitting around it grew in size exponentially with each step Chad took. With just a few steps made towards the table, Chad was as a child facing giants. He looked back at the ocean of settees and they and all of the women sitting on them appeared to be miniscule. He had grown, too. Was this a sign that he was accepted because he was much larger when in the presence of demons? He looked back towards the table and saw the assembled rise from their chairs and float above the table. Then they morphed into the most harrowing beings Chad could imagine. Growling, snarling shark-like creatures that moaned and drooled.

Chad found himself thinking that the sorting hat was telling him to get the fuck out of there, but he needed some more concrete evidence that he was in the wrong place. The snarly, moany, nightmarish, sharky beasties were glad to oblige. They rushed at Chad with a quickness and fury Chad had never seen before. He spun and ran as quickly as he could in the general direction from which he came. He glimpsed the redhead and Hugo before re-entering his bus station. The redhead smiled a sad smile as Chad disappeared from trans-dimensional Hoboken.

He entered his bus station at a dead sprint and two steps from a sink in the men’s room. The corner of the sink was crotch-high. Chad plowed into the corner of the sink, and the reflexive crumpling at the waist from the impact to his crotch added to the momentum of his sprinting upper body, which resulted in the smashing of his head against the mirror over the sink. His last conscious act was to raise his hands from his crotch to cover his head so that his inevitable fall to the ground would not add to the brain damage he though he must have incurred. In an adjacent bus station, demons were laughing their asses off.

A fellow member from the ghost tour followed Chad into the men’s room. The fellow member was only four seconds behind Chad when Chad entered the bathroom. The fellow member entered the bathroom to find Chad on his back, spread eagle on the floor surrounded by shards of broken mirror, bleeding from the top of his head and proudly displaying his penchant for odd English science fiction and bowties.

An ambulance was called, Debbie was scared and mortified at the same time, the tour guide received a sound tongue-lashing, and the tuxedo boys took no apparent notice of any of it. The EMTs were concerned about the possible impairment of Chad’s cognitive abilities when all he could say was, “Horrible sharky things…beautiful women…Hugo’s an asshat…how do you spell settee…it all smelled like baby powder,” and so forth. When it turned out that Chad was fine, or at least as functional as he was before the accident, Debbie barely spoke to him for a month and half.

After the six weeks, Debbie’s anger towards Chad had gone from a raging fire to tired-looking red embers and she’d stopped snarling every time Chad entered the room. Chad really had no idea what to make of any of his adventure. He was now more likely to give a few dollars to people who came to him with a badly concocted story about the need for them to get to Pittsburgh to visit their kid or dying mother. It seemed unlikely that angels wouldn’t be able to come up with a more believable way to hustle a buck, but one never knows about these sorts of things.

The bill from the hospital and the bill from the hotel for the broken mirror and righting the yaw-ways sink seemed way too high, but Chad paid them. Chad and Debbie’s relationship had evolved and they were now doggedly determined to remain in love with each other and the incident was never spoken about, unless Debbie felt a need to embarrass her husband. Their kids, however, thought the story was awesome.