Assignment: Somebody loses something important.
He awoke Sunday morning and knew immediately something was missing. He attempted to stretch leisurely, as one does on lazy Sunday mornings upon waking, but found he could not. His brain sent an electric impulse to his central nervous system, which would in turn give arms and legs and back specific instructions to reach out, pull, find that sweet spot, hold, and release with a contented sigh, but there was no response. Also, he could not feel the fresh, crisp linens underneath him he had adored so much; in fact, he felt nothing. He tried to utter words, but as with the stretching, the message was left incomplete.
In a few breaths, curiosity became concern, concern became alarm, and alarm became panic.
As the morning haze faded, he realized one very bizarre, very frightening fact. His body was gone. Not dead (at least he didn’t believe it to be, not yet), not broken and immobile, but just simply gone. He remembered, vaguely, a day he had walked out of his apartment to the parking lot and found his car missing. This, too, had been confusing, and he had needed a moment to recollect the previous day, retrace his steps. No, he wasn’t crazy, he had left his car right there, and now it was gone. So, too, he did now; last night before bed he had brushed his teeth, delicately folded down the covers, slipped underneath, and fell into the sleep he always did with relative ease. He was not crazy, he did not park his body in a strange lot and forgot he did so. His body, like his car, was missing.
He wished to rise, and did so. It was not an effort of body, but of will. Up, and up he went. He floated. He saw everything, in three hundred and sixty degrees, and beyond. His consciousness, what he considered to be an electrical impulse with no physical operating system, checked under the bed. No body. He drifted down the hallway and checked the bathroom, which is where he sometimes left his glasses. Again, no body. He wanted to be downstairs, to check the driveway, and he was there with no transition. His car was parked as it was last night, his physical being was not in the driver’s seat. His Sunday morning paper lay in the drive, but he didn’t need it. Suddenly, he knew everything.
As this pulse of energy, he saw history, forwards and backwards. Time moved in waves, stretching back for eons but no further than the tip of his finger if he was to outstretch his arm (had he an arm and a finger to outstretch). He saw the beginning and the end, and it was infinitely beautiful and horrific. He saw the creation of the universe in a brilliant flash, the wake of which created countless stars and rocky spheres, some livable, most not. He swam in the first oceans of our particular rock, danced with the first single cell biotics in the ooze of prehistory. He saw the earth constantly rebooted; those amoebas divided, multiplied, grew, and were destroyed in countless more violent explosions, only to be reborn and attempt again. The tenacity of life amazed him. Had he eyes, he would have wept. He saw cells become tissues, tissues become tiny, stubborn creatures, which sprouted legs, developed what may have been considered lungs, and crawl stolidly from the muck to land. He saw creatures great and small; lizards the size of his palm, monstrous beasts of nightmares larger than houses, and he saw their demise and rebirth as well. He saw fire, and was just as awed by it as the hunched and hairy apemen who gathered around it warily. He saw tribes and cities, kingdoms and cultures rise and fall by the hands of nature’s violent temperament or by each other. He saw Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and all their wonders. He saw action and reaction, the common thread that all living being shares, one is connected to the next, consequences of every decision ever made that shaped humanity, large and small, like a dot-to-dot puzzle with more numbers than there were stars. He saw the heartbeat of the earth itself, pulsing and bright, gradually fading to the now, felt the thrum of it within the rocks and soils of our ancient sphere. He saw the destruction of man and the rebirth of what was going to come afterwards. In the gaps between time he saw wonders he thought were only myth; herds of centaurs battled for the domain of lush, green hills, unicorns grazed, great dragons with emerald scales breathed fire. Tentacled gods and abominations slept for eons in the seas, waiting for their day to rise and swallow the earth whole. He saw shades of colors he never knew existed, and would have destroyed the corporeal brain attempting to decipher it. He saw all of creation in all of its zeros and ones, limitless depth and beauty. All of the mysteries of life opened to him as a flower to the sun.
That was all well and good, but what he desired at this moment was his first cup of coffee. Possibly eggs benedict. Both of which were impossible with his current state of affairs.
He drifted about his modestly sized house and all of creation. His oak coffee table whispered its years, cut from a tree a millenia in age. He felt guilt and irony for using the corpse of an ancient titan to hold his Life magazines. Its top, warped by coffee rings and carelessly spilled liquids, was a desecration of a tomb. His furniture and appliances bled life and nonlife. Where the coffee table wept stories of its great and long existence, the refrigerator and highly stylized Ikea kitchen island were dead and black.
He wanted to close his eyes and gather his thoughts, but with no eyelids he could not. Could he somehow dull out his vision of everything, he would still sense the ebb and flow of time and space. It was maddening. What’s more, he found it confounding that the mysteries of the universe were open to him, yet he had no idea where his body had gone off to. He was a mathematical savant stuck on a basic addition problem.
He reached out, stretched his consciousness like a net, over all he could sense and feel. He searched for something familiar but abandoned, an empty vessel that fit him like a glove. He heard the murmur of millions of voices, his fellow humans, from every continent and country. He understood a thousand foreign tongues, but not one of them had seen his shell of a body laying about abandoned.
Before now, he had never fully grasped the cliched concept of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” He had always applied it to love and money, but his current situation made those pale in comparison. He had no fingers to feel, no tongue to taste. He had no voice to call into work, should this continue. He was beyond pain, but he longed for the sweet sting of a stubbed toe or a papercut. What use was the knowledge of everything if you had no physical vessel to enjoy it in?
He imagined his body abandoned in a countryside ditch, scraped and bruised, covered in the graffiti of penises and swear words, souvenirs left behind by teenage joyriders. Perhaps there was a flourescent orange sticker adhered to his forehead, warning of an imminent towing should his body not be removed immediately. Towing and impounding charges would be his responsibility. They would not be held responsible for the damages his body incurred.
He drifted outside of his walls, still searching. He wished to be amongst humanity, and there he was. He found himself in a cathedral, vaulted and gothic, surrounded by corporeal beings. He saw their bodies dressed in their Sunday best. They shimmered and glowed with something more, something like himself, their true selves. Auras of colors surrounded their physical beings, some bright and vibrant and alive, some blue and purple and sorrowful, some black and bitter. He found that the faces of the darker colors, the colors that lacked life and vitality, smiled pleasantly and shook hands with their neighbors, leaving behind glittering ink blots like stains. He noticed that some auras, though colorful and uplifting, were withdrawn, receding inside themselves and throbbing like pulsars; these tended to belong to teenagers and adults lurking self-consciously in the back. Elderly women glowed dimly, their colors faded and washed out. Some had pestilent, sickly green shades and hues to their natural colors, and he saw their limited life spans. He floated down the cathedral aisle and watched the teeming humanity, the good and the bad, and he missed it all.
He reflected, in this place of reverence, upon his life. He knew the consequences of all his transgressions with painful clarity, and there were many. Even the smallest stone of sin created ripples in lives around him. He wished for nothing more than to do it all again, the correct way. He could not; the past was a ghost of the now, the future an infinity of potential with on tangible physical manifestation. . He wept rippling colors. People about him stirred, though they did not know why. Their skin prickled and they felt odd, intangible sorrow. Some rubbed their arms for warmth, others slapped at their skin at invisible flies and spiders. A baby, swaddled tightly in it’s mother’s arms, began to whimper, moan, and then scream helpless cries of discomfort. It’s aura was a bright white light, a clean canvas waiting to be painted by life.
Suddenly, he had an idea, or whatever passes for an idea to an unincorporated orb of energy.
He wished for youth, and youth is what he was given. He found himself in a maternity ward, white and quiet and soothing. He still hovered in a long aisle, but the congregation of church was replaced by a dozen small beds of pink and blue. Those same clean, clear auras of the babe in the church shimmered in each bed, making the air about them ripple as from a dozen tiny burning hot ovens. Some cried softly, some slept. He swept past them slowly, observant, stretching his awareness. He needed to choose carefully. He saw clearly the myriad of potentials each child held; their stories and futures spread above them in glowing red webs. Some intertwined with each other and blossomed, multiplied, sprayed this way and that and sprouted webs of their own. Others did not, but still developed into their own beautiful and independent lives. Soon the ceiling of the small nursery was a canopy of gleaming scarlet whispering of future children and childrens’ children, love and pain, long life and premature death, doctors, teachers, thieves. A cacophony of life. Every bed, every child, save one.
This child slept in a glass case like Snow White. A girl, she wore a pink skull cap and matching booties. Her name, in glittery swooping silver ink, was Samantha. She was tiny and fragile. Her skin was ruddy and almost opaque. A thin tube, taped to her cheek, fed her through a pinhole of a nostril. She squirmed weakly. Her light, unlike the others, was wan and pale. It pulsed slowly, and with effort. A nurse sat by, observing and quiet. Her thoughts reached him; she was praying for Samantha to either recover and live a full, rich life, or fade quickly and painlessly. Had he a heart, it would have broke.
Suppose, he thought, the little light within this pitiful creature was extinguished. If he could exit his own body, it seemed reasonable enough he could enter another. If that light were to go, and he was to enter, would he give that tiny body life, a chance for a full and productive existence? Or would he slip away as well, and if he were not dead now, he would be dead then? Once again, he may have been privy to the secret of all things, but this was still a mystery.
So he watched her, and he waited.
Time, he mused, seemed an insignificant factor in this form. He could start and stop it at will. He was unable to speed forward, but if he blinked (so he considered himself to be doing), hours passed seamlessly and without notice. He considered, from time to time, that he was a god, albeit a powerless and ineffectual one. He was omnipotent but impotent, a strange paradox on a higher level. He watched the nurse who came and went. Others replaced her to watch over the failing babe, but this nurse, her prayers were the strongest, loudest. He watched her bloodline flow into the future, saw her children and grandchildren, felt her love for every single one of them and, in turn, felt love and awe for her as well. Should she sense him, standing vigilant, she could have asked him any question she ever wished to know, and he could answer it. He could not, however, answer her prayers for mercy, one way or the other.
Inevitably, Samantha’s dim, pulsing light grew dark. Monitors ceased their steady beep-beeping and began to whine in alarm. The nurse, his nurse, approached her slowly; she was in no hurry, her prayer had been answered, and the child needn’t suffer any longer. Still, her aura wept icy blue and grey. Samantha’s aura was collapsing in on itself into a small blue orb, no larger than a marble. He wondered, briefly, if this what he appeared to be. Like an ember in the wind, it spiraled up quickly, flared, popped, and vanished. Her tiny, fragile vessel lay abandoned.
He needed to act quickly, and so he did; he left the universe and its wonders and enigmas behind, diving headlong into the uncertainty of that empty shell. After all, what good was forever when you couldn’t taste it? For one final moment that lasted both infinitely and a heartbeat, he felt the universe and his part in it, made of starstuff and mortal materials. He wanted to hold onto it, willed himself to remember, don’t forget, never forget, never ever ever forget. This mantra thrummed in his head as he felt once again corporeal, soft linen, heat lamps, bright lights, don’t forget don’t forget don’t.
She breathed in sharply and screamed. Her heart exploded to life and fluttered brilliantly inside of her diminutive chest. Things were white and bright and confusing. Shadows moved about her, strange, muffled sounds frightened her. She had no control over the small pink things at her side and it was maddening. She squirmed and cried and wanted comfort and touch. She arched her back with what little strength she had and begged in long, shrill cries for what she was not sure but something that was soft and reassuring.
Two hands cupped beneath her body and she was lifted, delicately. A reassuring hush filled her ears, her entire world. The blaring white light was blessedly eclipsed by a featureless shadow. Gradually she cried less and less, and then not at all. She breathed, pulled air into her premature lungs, and exhaled with more strength than the nurse had ever seen her do before. The nurse’s hands trembled, though Samantha wouldn’t have noticed. Nor would she have noticed the nurse’s tears of disbelief and her quiet thanks to God. Samantha tasted the air on her tongue, smelled the bouquet of the nurse’s perfume, felt the pulse beating in her wrists, comforting and familiar. She was content and quiet, maybe for the first time in her tender little life.