(The following short story was featured in the May 2107 Elphame Realms E-Zine)
Samantha Harrison never meant to leave her body.
She hadn’t even realized it had happened until she opened her eyes one night and noticed she was floating near the ceiling of her bedroom, just close enough to see the dust on top of the blades of the overhead fan, where she also spotted a tiny Lego man her son had been searching for.
It wasn’t until she reached for the toy piece that she realized something was not right. Her hand went through the fan as if she were a ghost. Startled, she spun around and saw her bed, where the physical part of her lay where she’d left herself, next to her husband, Oliver. They slept back to back with the dog, Frodo, between them. Her real hand was still clenched around the edge of the blanket so her husband wouldn’t pull away the covers when he rolled over in his sleep.
When she realized that she had somehow separated from the most important part of herself, she screamed. Or at least she tried to scream. Her vocal cords, of course, were down on the bed inside her physical body. Her spirit form was mute.
The only sound came from inside her head, where she heard her scream of fear quite clearly, though the room remained silent. Neither the dog nor her husband budged. Her reaction, however, swiftly ended the floating, and her spirit form fell back into the lifeless shape on the bed. The pressure of re-entry reminded her of trying to slam her car door shut after she’d jammed a handful of birthday balloons into the back of her Ford Explorer.
Her eyes flew open. She was still on her side, the dog pressed up against her legs. What the heck was that?
She sat up, accidentally pulling the covers off her sleeping husband. “Oliver,” she whispered in the dark. She reached over and shook him. He groaned and rolled over, covering his eyes with his arm. “What?”
“I was just outside of my body,” she said, her voice shaking. “I woke up and I was floating up there.” She pointed to the ceiling. “I saw Eldon’s Lego guy.”
Her husband, usually a pleasant man with a fondness for weird occurrences, was not interested in a middle-of-the-night conversation. “It was just a dream,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
Was it a dream? She lay there on her back, peering through the dark at the fan she had just seen from the top for the very first time. She would have to go up there with a dust cloth tomorrow.
She told herself she wasn’t going to be able to sleep any more that night, but before she could even consider what had just occurred, exhaustion from her day continued its hold on her physical form, and she was fast asleep once more. Her spirit spent the rest of the night exactly where it belonged.
The next day, she told herself that Oliver was right. They even laughed about it in the morning as she handed him his coffee in the travel cup, just before he walked out the door.
“So, fly girl. What was that about last night?” His eyebrow lifted in that cute way that always reminded her why she married him.
She actually blushed, feeling a little silly for having made a fuss. “I just had a bad dream,” she said. “It was nothing. “
He took his coffee and she adjusted his tie before he left for his job at the airport.
He would spend the day directing planes on and off the runways, while she would spend hers directing her twin sons to stop throwing their toys at each other and teaching them their letters so they would be ready for kindergarten in the fall.
After the boys went down for their nap, she dragged the ladder up from the basement and set it in the middle of her bedroom. It was an old house and the ceiling was very high. It was one of the reasons she loved the place. Standing at the top of the ladder, she could just reach the blades of the fan with her cloth, though she couldn’t see the tops of them. She wiped the first blade. She hadn’t cleaned the blades since they’d moved into the house four years prior. It was no surprise that her cloth was full of dust. She reached up again and took a second swipe at the blade. Her cloth knocked something to the ground with a soft thud.
She peered down from her high perch and saw the Lego man on his back, looking up at her.
She climbed down the ladder carefully and bent to pick up the little toy. She stared at it for a full minute before putting him in her pocket.
Well, isn’t that so weird? I dreamt of where to find the Lego guy. Then she climbed back up the ladder and carefully cleaned each fan blade before climbing back down and returning the ladder back to the basement.
Her son was delighted to get his Lego back.
She had meant to tell Oliver about finding the toy, but their lives over the next few days were so busy, she never got around to it. Other matters—like which school they would send the boys to, whether she should take that part-time job at the department store, and why the boys were starting to bite each other— were far more important to discuss. Eventually, the incident was so far back in her mind that she nearly forgot about it.
Then, just a few weeks later, it happened again.
This time, she wasn’t as frightened when she opened her eyes. She was bumping gently against the ceiling and was once more able to see the top sides of the now clean blades of the fan.
She was dreaming again, floating in a prone position like a lady superhero in a nightgown. She looked down at the sleeping bodies on her bed. Everything seemed to be fine.
Just for fun, she tried to move around, doing a sort of swimmer’s stroke. When she raised her arm over her head, she noticed it passed through the ceiling, as if the plaster and wood were made of whipped cream. She wondered if her body might move through the ceiling as well, and with just a little effort, she was floating in the attic with its tidy boxes piled near pink insulation-covered walls. When she peered out the dormer window, she saw the thick, bare branches of her favorite oak tree in the front yard, lit by a ray of moonlight.
It was a chilly, dark February evening, and though she never went outside at that hour, she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to sit on a branch. Faster than a blink, she was there and hovering within the branches of the massive tree.
She knew it was dark and cold out, but she didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable. Her body seemed to emit its own light so she could see everything clearly. She reached out and touched the bark. Her hand went halfway into the trunk and she was surprised to feel the vibrations of the tree. For the first time, she was aware that the tree was as alive as she was. Its thinnest branches extended from the thicker ones, moving almost imperceptibly in gentle waves, like the tentacles of a giant sea creature.
That wasn’t nearly as surprising as the warm, gentle energy she felt emanating from the tree. The fat oak that she and her sons had picnicked under, the tree that her husband swore at as he raked up the multitude of fallen leaves each autumn, loved her and her family with an emotion so palpable and pure, she could feel it. Its soft waves of affection moved into her body like ripples of a warm pool.
She had never experienced anything quite like it. “Oh, my gosh,” she said. She heard the words in her head, but her mouth did not move. Once again, she was mute.
She looked over at her neighbor’s house next door and saw a light go on in their upstairs bedroom, about twenty feet from the tree. She wondered what Jen and Harry would think if they saw her in the tree at four A.M. The thought dropped her back into her body a little less gently than the first time. She felt a tiny shock as her two parts realigned, the spirit form entering the physical form with a thump.
Her eyes opened. This time she didn’t wake Oliver. She wasn’t sure what was happening to her, but she worried that something was wrong. Perhaps she had a brain tumor and was hallucinating. Maybe she was dying and this was some sort of celestial preview. Either way, no need to worry anyone. Especially Oliver.
The next morning, after Oliver left for work and while the boys were watching “Caillou,” she opened her laptop, clicked on the Google search bar and typed the words: “leaving my body.” She found pages of links to comments and research from people who described exactly what was occurring to her. Several of the links she clicked on were written by people who were trying hard to figure out how to leave their bodies for a time. Some were frightened by the experience, and others offered ideas to help people have an out-of-body experience.
She clicked through a few links and then shut her computer. She did not want to leave her body. She was perfectly happy with her life the way it was.
She just wanted to get up in the morning, clean her house, play with her kids, maybe do a little shopping at the supermarket or the mall, and then make dinner for Oliver, so that when he got home, they could sit at the table together and enjoy a meal.
Even so, she couldn’t stop thinking about how it felt to be sitting in that tree. She pulled back the drape and looked out the window at the old oak. She noticed once again the slight movement of the smaller branches at the end of each thick limb. It was almost like the tree knew she was looking and was gesturing in response.
She dropped the drape and stepped away from the window. She remembered the feeling of love she’d felt coming from the oak, and felt a rush of fondness towards the tree, almost as if it were human, as if it had a personality.
“You are losing it,” she said aloud to herself, smiling just a bit at the nonsense of her thoughts. As her words filled the room, she was happy to hear that her vocal chords worked just fine.
She went back to her computer and searched the words: “How to not leave your body.” Unfortunately, she didn’t find any satisfying answers.
For the next few months, Sam slept soundly through the night. The only time she woke up was when one of the twins cried out for her or got up to go to the bathroom and wanted help.
It didn’t seem like it would happen again. And then it did. But this time, to her surprise, she was more curious than frightened. She recalled what she had read on the computer about some of the experiences people had. Apparently, it was possible to go a lot farther than the tree in the front yard.
This time, when she opened her eyes and found herself floating near the ceiling of the bedroom, she imagined herself in the tree and, in a single beat, was there once again. She reached out to pet a thick branch and felt the response of the giant oak. It felt familiar now and without thinking, she replied, “I love you too, tree.”
Then, because she had read it could be done, she imagined herself somewhere else.
She was still timid about being out of the house without her physical body, so she didn’t want to go far. She thought about her mom and dad. In a flash, she was floating above her childhood home, several miles from the house she shared with Oliver and the kids.
She knew her parents would be sleeping and she didn’t want to go into inside and take the chance of them seeing her, which might possibly scare the wits out them.
It was then she felt a presence floating close by. And that scared the wits out of her. “Oh, my God,” she heard herself say loudly in her head.
She was back in her body in a flash, the feeling of re-immersion more like a sack of flour tossed onto a countertop than a gentle reunion of body and spirit.
When she opened her eyes, she was disappointed to see the ceiling fan high above her, blades moving languidly. The dog was at her side, while her husband breathed quietly with just a hint of a snore in every few breaths.
She blinked, feeling the shock of what had just occurred. There was someone out there. And she couldn’t imagine who it might be.
This time, she knew she would have to tell Oliver.
The next morning at breakfast, after she’d sent the boys off to play, she tried to bring up the subject as Oliver read the newspaper.
“I need to talk to you.” She gathered the plastic dishes shaped like zoo animals, one a lion and the other an elephant, and scrapped the bits of leftover French toast into the garbage.
“Hmmm,” Oliver replied, turning to the sports pages.
She put the dishes in the sink and sat down across from her husband. She drew a sip of her cold coffee, trying to find the words. “Oliver, do you remember when I woke you up that night and told you I was floating up near the fan in our room? And you told me I was dreaming.”
He looked up over the edge of the newspaper page. “Yeah,” he said.
She had his attention. “Remember how I told you I saw the Lego man on the blade?”
She walked over to the coffee table near the television and plucked the Lego man from a little black speedboat atop of a pile of coloring books. She set it on the table before him.
Oliver looked at it for a moment before picking it up. “You found him,” he smiled. “I’ll bet Eldon was happy.”
He was missing the point. “Oliver,” she said, louder than she’d meant to. “I’ve been leaving my body. I’ve been in the top of that tree twice,” she said, pointing out the window to the front of the house. “Last night, I was hanging out above my folks’ house until I felt the presence of another…someone…and it scared me so badly I fell right back into my body.”
She told him every detail, including the love she’d felt from the tree. He looked out the window towards the front of the house, his eyes wide.
He dropped the paper onto the table and stared at her for a moment. Finally, he spoke. “Wow, Sam, it sounds kind of cool.”
“Not cool,” she said. “I don’t want to leave my body. I can’t imagine why this is happening to me.”
He seemed to detect the anxiety on her face and stood up. He walked over to her, pulled her into his arms and held her for a few moments.
“I cannot believe you are able to do that,” he said quietly in her ear. “I’ve heard that some people can do it, but I’ve never met anyone who could. I know it must be scary for you, but think of it this way…” He pulled back and looked into her eyes. “You have an amazing gift that has somehow been given to you.”
He gently tucked a stray wave of her blond hair behind her ear. His brown eyes were fixed on her blue ones. “You know, wife,” he said, his voice filled with admiration. “You are usually not afraid of anything. You should try to enjoy it; maybe see what else is out there.”
He smiled. “It’s not like you’re losing sleep over it.”
In the middle of that quiet moment, the boys came tearing into the kitchen, crying. Eldon had Ethan’s toy train and both had a grip on it. The train cars snapped apart in the scuffle and both boys fell on their backsides, their little faces red with shock and the exertion of the baby battle.
Oliver and Sam each gathered up a child in their arms, and that was the end of the discussion for the time being. But Sam was emboldened by Oliver’s encouragement and admiration and felt far less uneasy about her nighttime travels.
The next time it happened, she was going to be ready to fly.
It didn’t happen again for several months. Oliver would ask her every morning how she slept and wait expectantly for her answer, and she always replied with a shrug and a shake of her head.
She was growing increasingly curious about the presence she’d felt that night while floating over her parent’s house. Perhaps a dead relative? An angel? When she thought about the presence, she didn’t feel afraid anymore, but she was unable to imagine why it made her feel a slight yearning for something she couldn’t seem to name.
Then, one night, when she was especially tired and sleeping soundly, it happened again.
As soon as she realized she was out of her body, she thought about the presence and in a heartbeat, she was hovering over her childhood home.
As she looked about to get her bearings, she glanced up and saw an endless field of white lights glistening like millions of tiny diamonds strewn across a vast bolt of black velvet. A shooting star went flying past, seemingly close enough for her to grab. She reached out to try to touch the moving light, but was distracted by a gentle tap on her shoulder. Sam spun around and saw nothing except the twinkling stars.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” asked a voice.
“Who’s there?” Sam asked, trying to stay calm.
She heard a soft giggle in reply. “It’s just me.”
“Oh, my gosh.” Sam couldn’t understand how the voice felt so familiar because she didn’t know anyone who was dead or in spirit form. Or invisible.
“Hello, Sam,” said the voice, sounding like the soft tinkle of crystal wind chimes caressed by a spring breeze. “I am so happy to see you again.”
The presence felt calm and reassuring. From a place in her she did not know existed, Sam recognized the emotions radiating from the presence, and her body flooded with inexplicable joy.
It felt like a reunion with the other half of herself, a half she never knew existed.
“I can hear you, b-but I can’t see you,” Sam stuttered.
“Hold on a second,” the presence said. “I didn’t want to scare you again.”
As Sam watched, a point of light appeared, blinking gently like a firefly. The point began to grow into a shape just about her size. The shape turned into a small figure in a white robe, gleaming so brightly, Sam could not make out its face. But she recognized the energy and knew from somewhere deep inside that this was someone she deeply loved. She just couldn’t remember from where or when.
“It’s me, Treena,” the being said, reaching for Sam. “You remember me, don’t you?”
As Sam stared at her in wonder, Treena reached out for her. “Here, take my hand.”
Suddenly, the gentle breeze that had been swirling about them began to move faster, encircling Sam and Treena and pulling them out into the stratosphere with the force of gale winds. Stars spun about them in increasing speeds, until everything looked gray and they were flying through a tunnel holding tightly to each other’s hands.
Sam closed her eyes before she could register where they were headed, anticipating a hard landing, given their speed. She was surprised when they landed gently, their feet barely touching the ground. They were outside a small, old-fashioned movie theater, and Treena pulled Sam through the bronze doors.
Sam adored movies but hadn’t been to one since the twins were born. She smiled and looked around the elegant lobby, carpeted in red and decorated with dramatic fringed curtains. No one was inside, but Treena was undeterred and led her into an auditorium where they sat down upon two red velvet seats in the front row.
The last place Sam ever expected to be was in a movie theater. She turned to question Treena, but her glowing companion shushed her with a smile.
The movie started, and it was like no movie Sam had ever seen. There was a kaleidoscope of images, not just on the screen but all around them, in the air and all about the room, showing bits of Sam’s life in singular moments, but occurring all at once. She was able to see and understand every moment, while simultaneously comprehending how they were all connected. The two women watched in fascination and delight, as if it were the best movie either had ever seen.
It wasn’t just the life she was living, but aspects of her previous lives on Earth and in other places and dimensions. Sam remembered everything. And it all made perfect sense.
She could feel her soul growing and changing with each moment, enriched by a collection of wisdom and experience far beyond her earthly awareness. It was all so satisfying and exhilarating to remember.
Treena pointed to a series of images flashing by in the upper corner of the room, and Sam was surprised to recognize herself and Treena with a group of four three other beings, all beaming lights, which shone off their bodies like haloes. “There we are, Sam. That’s us when we were planning for you to live the life you are in now.
“Remember what you wanted to do while you were in this life?” Treena asked.
Sam remembered now that the small group of had been a vital part of everything that she was. It was crystal clear, like a sudden memory that springs forwards from a muddle of thoughts. They were her soul group, and she remembered each of their names and distinct personalities, and why each one was so dear to her. She’d spent many lifetimes with each one of them in places she had completely forgotten existed. She now understood that a small part of each of her beloved soulmates was present in Oliver and the twins, as if each had sent a part of themselves to earth to be with her, while the greater parts remained wherever it was that they were, to observe and to learn. I understand everything now, Sam thought. And it’s all perfect.
Treena looked over at her and smiled in affectionate appreciation and tightened her grip on Sam’s hand. “Yes. Perfect.”
Flashing over everything, in the most powerful and vibrant of colors, were images of the most familiar place of all, a place where all the wisdom of eternity was available to her, where there was never anything but the joy of discovery. It was a place where nothing bad ever happened, a place where the only desire was to engage in an eternal quest for exquisite growth and evolution. It was a place that had many names, but in Sam’s mind, it was Heaven.
The images triggered an intense desire in Sam to go there that very moment with Treena, to merge with her soul group and never return to the life she would leave behind. From her current perspective, it would be only a matter of moments before she and the boys and Oliver would be reunited in that place. She wanted to go there and wait for them.
Treena read her mind. “Well, that’s a choice,” she said. “But, you either have to stay or go. You can’t keep trying to get back here. Some of us can manage it, but it’s simply not good for you and the experiences you hoped to have.”
Sam protested. “I do not keep trying to return. I can’t help it. I keep leaving my body.”
“I know,” Treena said lovingly, “but watch this.”
All of a sudden, the surrounding images of lives she had lived and those she had known and loved disappeared, replaced by a moving film of the life she was currently living, played out in a montage on the big screen right in front of her.
Speeding through days and years in front of her eyes, she saw her life as it might be if she returned to her body with the memories of this experience; the excitement of a reunion with Treena and the others, of understanding the power available to her, the gift of remembering a joy so rich she couldn’t imagine another moment without it.
She watched glimpses of her future, and saw how she would become obsessed with escaping her body, trying desperately to return to where ever this was. She saw an image of her and Oliver sharing a bed, and her heart broke as she felt his loneliness when he looked over at her sleeping form, knowing she was once again gone from their bed.
Sam saw that if she remembered this place, all of her life upon her return would be spent in endless attempts to return. With each celestial visit, she would know more about the afterlife and be less attached to her life with Oliver and the boys. She watched as the boys grew, turning more to each other than her, struggling with a mother who was gone more than she was there. Sam would spend increasing amounts of time trying to share with others the wisdom she couldn’t forget, but her ability to create change on the Earth would be a very small payoff for the price she would pay for leaving her family behind.
In another scene, years had passed and she saw Oliver at work, having coffee with a female colleague, laughing at a joke they shared. Sam could feel Oliver’s relief at once again having someone to talk with, someone who cared about him the way Sam once had.
She looked closely at the pretty brunette, a tiny woman with laughing eyes that were fixed upon Oliver as he talked.
“Is that…you?” Sam asked Treena in stunned surprise.
Treena nodded. “It’s an aspect of me. Remember? We made an agreement before you left us that we would do everything in our power to support each other’s growth.”
She shrugged and smiled playfully. “I’m just there trying to help you figure it all out.”
Sam now remembered it all. Life was about growth and change. In this place and all of the places accessible beyond life, there were no challenges that couldn’t be conquered with a focus of one’s desire. Everything could be manifested by wishing it so. It was only upon Earth and places like it where one could experience growth, by testing oneself through the multitude of never ending variations of darkness and light. Manifesting one’s desires was still possible, but it was a far slower process. And that was the point of life, becoming expert at manifesting regardless. It was also the path to mastery at all levels of existence.
Sam knew what she had to do.
“I don’t want to remember this place,” she told Treena. “I want to go back to my life with Oliver and the boys. I need to finish what I started.”
Treena nodded. “That’s what I thought you’d say. Go ahead. Make it so. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Sam and Treena stood and hugged goodbye. Sam felt her heart break a little bit because she loved her friend more than almost anything. Almost anything.
“Treena,” Sam said, touching her friend’s face gently. “In this life, Oliver’s mine.”
Treena giggled, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “We’ll see,” she said.
Before Sam could reply or even blink, she was back in her body, in a manner so gentle it felt as if she were waking from a dream. She opened her eyes and turned to see Oliver lying beside her in the darkness, breathing evenly.
Sam was still for a moment, trying to remember what she’d just been dreaming, aware she’d had just had a long and wonderful dream, but was unable to quite remember what it had been about. She rolled over and draped an arm across her husband, and fell back asleep.
She didn’t know it just then, but until the very last breath of her life, many years in the future, she would never leave her body again. And yet, for the remainder of her days, in a way that wasn’t at all unpleasant, she would never again look skyward without feeling a gentle longing for something she couldn’t quite recall.
(To read more stories from the new magazine that featured this story, click here Elphame Realms.)