I felt the world tug at my feet, and I found myself standing on a sidewalk. I looked around, and I noticed the architecture is quite different. I looked at my watch, given to me six months ago to tell me how much time I had left. It looked like I would spend Christmas here. from what I was used to.

I read the storefront signs, and I could not even recognize the writing. Loking around, I saw almost everyone on this block was a Negro. It looked like the public library wpould not be the place to go to learn more about the world. I hoped to find Quinn, and I also hoped he spoke a language I am fluent with.

I decided to munch on some Doritos chips that I had bought just an hour ago. I make sure I bring food and warter along because currency from one world may not be valid in the next.

I wandered around for an hour or so, when someone shouted to me. I turned, and I saw this Negro man in a blue uniform, yelling at me in some language I did not understand.

"I don't mean any harm," I said.

The fellow just yelled at me. I slowly backed off.

"Easy," I said. "I've no intention of harming you."

I could see a pistol holstered on to his waist. His right hand was touching the butt of the pistol. I did not know if this guy was just afraid or wanted to attack me.

Then I saw a police car park on the curb, and two more people came out. They all yelled at me.

I guess I had to surrender.

I was taken to a police station. I was fingerprinted and photographed. This was an all-too-familiar situation for me. I was taken to an interrogation room, where the only furniture was one table and two chairs. Light was provided by a lamp hanging from the ceiling directly above the table. I waited there for at least an hour.

Then some big Negro man came inside, dressed in clothes like those in West Africa. "Hello, there," he said with this strange accent. "I am Detective Karoni. I came all the way from police headquarters because I can speak your language."

Was I wanted for some crime on this world? I hoped it was not a capital crime for which I would be executed before Christmas. "My name is Colin Mallory," I said.

"So you're an Irish," he said. "An Irish with no passport, no immigration identification, no ethnic identity patch?"

"Well, yeah," I said. My great-great grandfather, Seamus Mallory, immigrated from Ireland in the 1860's.

"Okay, Irish," said the detective. "What were you doing in the wrong part of town?"

"Wrong part? Was I not supposed to be there?"

"Well, most of the people of this city don't like Irish loitering in their neghborhoods, especially one without any identification."

"Well, can you at least tell me why your police took me into custody?"

"Do you have a job?"

"No."

"Then we arrested you for vagrancy," said the detective. "You will be seeing a judge shortly."

A police officer entered the room; he was carrying an old-looking jacket. "You better be wearing this, Irish," said the detective.

I looked at the sand-colored jacket. It was actually quite warm, and will be useful to me in the winter months, at least in worlds with the same axial tilt as this one. God knows how many times I visited worlds with a reverse axial tilt. I saw a hint of green ojn the jacket. I saw a green shamrock on the left sleeve.

I guess this was an ethnic identity patch.

Anyway, I was taken to a judge, which was in this domed building I guessed was a courthouse. I was taken to the courtroom. The courtroom had benches and desks. The arrangement was the same as courtrooms in my adoptive world, even if the interior decoration was different.

I looked around and saw the bailiffs and the court clerk; all were Negroes.

"Hello there," said a Negro lady. "I will be your interpreter. The judge will be on his way."

Then some old Negro fellow came. He was apparently the judge, even if he did not dress like judges where I grew up. The judge said something, and the detective who questioned me said something else.

"They are confirming that you are charged with vagrancy," said the interpreter.

Then the judge was apparently saying something to me.

"Mr. Mallory," said the interpreter. "The city has better uses of its property tax revenue than to prosecute vagrants. Now, I am inclined to turn you over to immigration court so they can deport you back to Irishland." I never been to Ireland before, and for a minute I thought I'd spend Christmas in Ireland. "But there is an Irish doctor who needs help. You'll be working for a living, Irish. And if you get in trouble again, you'll be on a plane back to Irishland."

Then the judge rang a bell, which was equivalent to banging a gavel.

I got up to leave. the detective who questioned me faced me.

"We'll be keeping an eye out for you, Irish," he said. "Just stay out of our neighborhoods."

I was riding in a police car for a few minutes and we turned onto a street. I noticed that some of the storefront signs were in English.

The car stopped in front of a building. A sign read "ST. PATRICK'S HOSPITAL". One of the police officers opened the door, and I got out. He escorted me inside the hospital's lobby.

The lobby looked like any hospital lobby, with chairs and a table and a desk for the receptionists. I saw magazines, some in English and some in this country's dominant language.

A man in a white coat came out. He had red hair, a red beard, and glasses. I noticed the green shamrock on his left sleeve. He spoke to the cops, and they spoke to him back.

"So you must be the new help the judge promised me," said the man in an Irish accent. "I am Dr. Hennessey."

"I am Colin Mallory," I said. "So, how long have you been working here?"

"I was in this practice for over thirty years, laddie. I am respected among the Irish folk."

"Well, at least I have a job. What will I be paid?"

"You'll get room an' board, plus a little bit of money for yer drinkin'. There's a tavern across the street from here."

"Sir, I won't be that long. I'll be gone before the New Year."

"There is somethin' that I've been wonderin'. How is it that ye dinna speak with an Irish accent? Your accent is unheard of."

"I don't know."

"Just work hard and keep outa trouble, and ye'll do fine."

And so I worked. Most of it was janitorial duties such as mopping floors and cleaning toilets. Some of the solutions I used to clean smelled strong. I guessed hospitals had to be sterile, on account of all the sick people that come here.

I also noticed that everyone who comes here is Irish, on account of their green shamrocks. No Negroes visited this hospital. I kept working like this for hours. I met a couple of doctors, and I learned that Dr. Hennessey was the chief doctor.

"Okay, Colin," said the doctor. "the hospital will be payin' for your apartment. I should show ye where it is."

I was taken to my apartment, which was right above the hospital; apparently the hospital only occupied the first five floors of the building.

It was barely furnished. It was just a studio apartment with a bed and a couch. there was not even a television. I oriented myself, noting the location of the kitchen alcove and the bathroom. At least the place was clean.

Since there was nothing to do in this apartment but eat and sleep, I decided to go to the bar across the street.

The bar was called the Irisher; it was written in both English and the country's primary language. The inside was dimly lit, with a wooden floor and signs advertising brands of beer I was not familiar with. The bar was already crowded at this time of night. I noticed almost everyone had a green shamrock, although there was this Chinese guy with a red dragon on his sleeve and a fellow with a yellow Star of David on his sleeve. Christmas decorations adorned the walls and the doorway. Music was playing from a jukebox.

I sat at the bar. the bartender, an middle-aged man with a big brown moustache, said something to me in the native language. Then he asked me," What do ye want?"

"Get me a Killian's on tap," I said.

"Sure, laddie."

He poured beer into a mug from a tap. After serving me, i asked him, "Do you know a Michael Mallory?"

"No, I dinnae. Me name is Michael Mulligan, in case yer wonderin'. Ye know, ye dinnae speak with an Irish accent, even though you wear the green shamrock. In fact, I never heard of yer accent before."

"I'm a traveler, just passing through. I'll be spending Christmas here."

"Ye got a family?"

"They're far away."

I sat, drinking my cold beer. I wonder what Quinn and the others were doing right now. I remember the first Christmas I spent with them. It was in San Francisco, and we stayed at the Dominion Hotel. I had not had Christmas with family in a long time; I wonder if I ever will. I watched the television, which showed news, but I did not understand since it was not in English.

Maybe they will try to recall me. But with each minute, it looks like I would be spending Christmas alone. Christmas 1998 was the first time I spent Christmas with family ever since my parents died. I sure enjoyed the company of my brother and my companions. I thought this would be a new phase in my life, when I would have a family to spend the holidays with. Even though we could not get around the slidecage to get to my homeworld, I still had my brother. Will I spend the rest of my life wandering the multiverse?

"Hello there," a female voice said even as I sipped my beer.

I turned and saw a pretty red-haired woman. Like most of the people here, she wore a green shamrock on the sleeve of her coat. Underneath that coat she wore a white blouse. There were two other women apparently with her.

"Hi," I said.

"I never seen ya here before," she said.

"I am just passing through. I am an itinerant traveler."

"Me name is Heather. What is yer name?"

"Colin."

"Nice to meet ya, Colin."

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a schoolteacher at the Irish school. I've been teaching for six years."

"Do you teach history?"

"Yes, I do."

"I love history. I've read many versions of history for the past year or so. So tell me about history?"

"World history or the history of this country?"

"The country."

"It would take a long time."

"Well, try to keep it under fifteen minutes."

"This continent was conquered by niggers from western Africa about seven hundred years ago. They created several countries, including this one. New technologies were developed and populations grew."

"I know there are laws requiring us to wear these patches. When were they passed?"

"Over a hundred years ago. There were concerns over immigration from Ireland and China. The niggers wanted to keep us in our places."

"Were you born here, or did you come from Ireland?"

"I came from Ireland when I was nine years old."

"This country has discriminatory laws against you simply because you're Irish. Why be here?"

"Well, it's better than ireland. Ireland is ruled by thugs who take what they please. The niggers treat us better than the rulers of Ireland. But enough about me. Tell me about yourself."

So I did. I told her about my travels to various places, omitting references to parallel universes.

"Very interestin' life, Colin." She then started talking to the other two women she came here with, in a language I did not understand. I heard them giggling. One of them said something to me.

"Uh, could you repeat that?" I asked.

"Ye dinna speak Gaelic?" asks Heather. "An Irish that dinna speak Gaelic, but speaks English?"

"I never been to Ireland."

"Well, let me introduce ye to me friends, Michelle and Kathleen."

"Hi," I said to them. "So tell me about yourselves."

So they did. Michelle was a cocktail waitress, and Kathleen was a cashier at a store. They and Heather have been friends since high school.

"Was it a big class?" I asked.

"Well, it was an Irish-only school," said Michelle.

"We all knew each other," said Kathleen.

And so I spent the rest of my time drinking. I wondered if Quinn, Rembrandt, and Maggie would just pop up and surprise me. At least the three women here kept me company. They even introduced me to some other people, all of them Irish.

I looked through the comics section of a newspaper. I noticed that comic strips use caricatures of Irish and Chinese and Jews.

Finally, the Irisher closed, and Michael Mulligan closed up the place. I went out.

"Do ye need a ride home, Colin?" asked Heather.

"I live in an apartment above the hospital," I said. "There is a spare room I could use until I leave on the twenty-seventh."

"Well, at least ye won't be too far if ye get hurt."

"It was nice having you company. Maybe I could see you on Christmas."

"What about yer family?" she asked.

"It's complicated. I might not be able to see them this Christmas. I pray to God that they might make it."

I gave Heather a hug, and then I went up to my apartment above the St. Patrick's Hospital. I wondered if God sent Quinn and Rembrandt and Maggie here to greet me in time to celebrate Christmas. But the apartment was empty.

I lay down on bed and prayed that Quinn and Rembrandt and Maggie are okay, and for God to look after them as He looks after me.